Women’s MMA is in the headlines again thanks to Ronda Rousey’s superb quick finish over Sarah Kaufman in the main event of Saturday night’s Strikeforce show.
Rousey jabbed Kaufman backwards into the fence, entered the clinch and hit a slick trip before transitioning into her trademark armbar. It was textbook Rousey and as complete a victory as you can imagine - she wasn’t even lightly hurt once in the 54 seconds the fight lasted.
The win underlines her position as the face of women’s MMA - she has certainly eclipsed Cris ‘Cyborg’ Santos at this point - and has reignited the debate about what place women’s MMA has in the structure of the sport. Rousey is probably Strikeforce’s biggest asset at present but there are signs that the UFC has its eye on her.
No doubt she would be a useful addition in terms of pay-per-view sales and revenue, but should the UFC add female fighters to its roster? Fan opinion seems sharply divided but UFC Dana White is singing Rousey’s praises and has reversed his position.
Until this year he always said women had no place in the organisation but of late he has conceded that Rousey might the one to open the door.
“Ronda Rousey could be in the UFC, but I don’t know if it will be in the next year or in ten years. She’s a Strikeforce fighter, but we could see her in the UFC someday,” he said after the Ben Henderson/Frankie Edgar fight.
“How many [MMA] guys have you seen on that [Conan O’Brien] show? She’s the only [fighter] who has been on there. That’s how big she is.”
Rousey is able to open doors because she has a pretty face and an exciting style. But she also has a background as an Olympic judo competitor and that legitimises her as an athlete, from the mainstream press point of view, in a way that few other fighters can match. Her female peers such as Kaufman, Meisha Tate and Santos aren’t getting the same sort of opportunities.
The UFC arduously covets mainstream coverage such as the Conan O’Brien show, not just for exposure but because of a deeper-rooted need to see MMA accepted as a ‘real’ sport. The fact that Rousey is getting such invitations means that she suddenly looms very large on the UFC executives’ radar both as a PPV asset and a brand ambassador.
She could fill both roles admirably, but do those goals warrant creating a women’s division in the UFC? The talent pool is extremely shallow in women’s MMA, which means we will probably see Rousey fighting endless rematches over the next couple of years. And beyond that, there is the wider question of how accepted women’s MMA is in the first place.
Women’s MMA is basically a sideshow in the sport and while a lot of fans don’t like it, they haven’t been vocal in opposing it. But I believe that would change if the sport’s biggest company were to begin offering female fights. Suddenly the casual fan - who doesn’t watch Strikeforce - is presented with women fighting and if they don’t like it, there’s a good chance of them boycotting PPV events with female fighters on the card.
And to be brutally honest, there aren’t that many good female fighters out there anyway. For the UFC to introduce a women’s division just because it is felt Rousey might sell PPV would be a short-sighted move in my opinion, and something of a ‘jumping the shark’ moment for the company.
But all the signs are that the move is under serious consideration - it is not for no reason that Dana White has been tweeting about how “exciting” he found the women’s fights at the weekend. And surely it cannot be coincidence that the ONLY fights from the Strikeforce event he tweeted about were women’s fights - ignoring the huge KO that finished the Ovince St. Preux light-heavyweight bout - and one of those was on the undercard, so only Showtime Extreme subscribers got to see it.
White is laying the ground for a women’s division - the tweets are his way of endorsing WMMA and giving it credibility with the casual fan base. It probably won’t happen for a while yet, given the deal that sees Strikeforce talent remaining as Strikeforce talent, but in between now and Strikeforce inevitably going under, expect to see a lot more tweets when the women’s fights are on.