What a day of fights on Saturday. A stacked UFC card that didn’t disappoint, and for boxing fans a devastating knockout of Manny Pacquiao in his fourth fight with Juan Manuel Marquez. Through all of that however, an even bigger story was building in the fight game. During the pre-fight press conference for the UFC on Fox 5, Dana White unveiled the new 135 pound Female UFC Champion Ronda Rousey, and announced the first ever female UFC bout scheduled for February of next year. A headlining gig no less between rising superstar, Ronda Rousey, and tough challenger Liz Carmouche. This is a game changer in the sport, and a decision I applaud. Dana White has long been a supporter of women in MMA but until now claimed the talent pool was not deep enough to launch a division in the big show. It also marks the first openly gay athlete to fight in the UFC in Carmouche. All good things, but before we start screaming from the rooftops about how progressive the UFC is some potential concerns must be addressed.
First of all, is this a one woman show or the beginning of established female divisions within the UFC? White made it quite clear last week that the star power of Rousey is the main driving force behind his decision. Fair play, Rousey is a born star. She has the skill, the looks, and is no doubt a graduate of the Chael Sonnen school of smack talk. My concern is the long-term intentions for women in the UFC. What if Rousey loses? There’s no doubt a re-match between Rousey and Meisha Tate on the horizon, and a long awaited bout with Cristiane ‘Cyborg’ Santos, but a loss to Carmouche would certainly slow down the Rousey fame train quite a bit, and potentially put the whole plan in jeopardy. White says not so, claiming a loss for Rousey would simply make Carmouche the new champ, and she would await the next contender “just like the guys”. The UFC did sign Rousey to an unprecedented eight fight deal, but it still feels like a precarious experiment at this point. After all she’s the only one feeling that much love from the UFC right now. Unless we start seeing other contracts signed by female athlete’s we might just be riding out the Ronda Rousey show.
Secondly, why is Rousey the UFC’s 135 pound women’s champ? I get that she is the current Zuffa owned Strikeforce champ, but she’s never fought in the UFC. Shouldn’t her and Carmouche be fighting for a vacant UFC title. I didn’t realize belts were transferable. It’s not even like boxing where fighter’s often hold more than one belt from competing organizations at the same time. When a fighter gets to the UFC any other belt you have pretty much doesn’t matter. It’s not like you get to trade it straight up for a UFC championship. The whole way it’s gone down seems to feed into the theory that this is less about expanding the UFC to include female fighters, and more about milking Rousey’s star power for all it’s worth. But I digress. If there’s one thing the UFC knows how to do is hype a fight, and if this ends up being the launching pad to a new era of women’s MMA than I’m alright with that. I have no doubt after years of watching female fighters in organizations like Strikeforce, Bodog, and the now defunct EliteXC that they will put on a good show.
At the end of the day this is a great moment for a sport that’s seen more than it’s fair share of criticism. The very fact that two women, one of which is openly gay, are headlining a major event which features some of the sports biggest male stars, shows that it is far more inclusive and progressive than most other ‘mainstream’ sports. Let’s hope that the investment in female competition extends beyond one woman.