In December 2014 season 20 of the UFC’s hit reality TV series, The Ultimate Fighter, came to an end. It was the first series in Ultimate Fighter history to feature an all-female cast.
In March 2015 UFC crowned its first ever female European world champion. In the same month, the organisation’s women’s bantamweight champion went on to defend her title for the fifth time, defeating her opponent in just 14 seconds and bringing her professional mixed martial arts (MMA) record to a phenomenal 11-0-0.
That night another box was ticked when female fighters made up both the main and co-main events of a UFC fight card. Moreover those women rounded off a pay per view card, one which attracted more than half a million pay per view buys.
In April 2015 the UFC’s debut event in Poland featured two women’s bouts, a record for a European fight card. That night, for the first time in history, a women’s world title fight was the main attraction on European soil.
In May of this year the UFC women’s bantamweight champion, Ronda Rousey, was named ‘The World’s Most Dominant Athlete’ by one of the most prestigious sporting titles on the planet, Sports Illustrated.
In the past seven months female fighters including Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Paige VanZant, Joanne Calderwood and Michelle Waterson have made headlines all over the world for joining the organisation, signing lucrative endorsement deals and selling out arenas.
It is these milestones – along with so many in between – which demonstrate the power and potential of women’s MMA.
UFC President Dana White has himself acknowledged the error he made, some four and a half years ago, when he claimed that women would never have a place in the UFC. Around the time that statement was made, pundits all over the world were quick to agree. Some media felt confused, concerned at the prospect of females fighting within the world’s elite level MMA organisation. And there were, of course, fans who felt the same way.
Fast forward five years and some of the most talked about names in the sport of mixed martial arts are women.
Of course, the sport owes a huge debt of gratitude to the women who have taken hold of the baton and relished the opportunity to dispel of any gender bias that existed within professional MMA. Female fighters have, themselves, welcomed the challenge to become spokespersons for a sport once associated largely with men. I can’t help but wonder, if a similar opportunity had been created in the absence of fighters such as Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate and Cat Zingano – all of whom embody the discipline, strength and professionalism that now runs through the inaugural women’s UFC division – whether we would have been quite so fortunate as to witness a level playing field within the UFC.
Journalist Ariel Helwani earlier this year discussed on Fox Sports how, in his opinion, MMA is one of the few – if not the only – sports in which women are as highly regarded as men, in which the two sexes are treated as equals in every sense of the word. In my mind, that is a wholly accurate assessment.
Ronda Rousey herself has explained that she feels an all-women UFC card is neither likely nor necessary in the future. I agree. The point is, female fighters are performing at such a level that their place, surely, is on the same fight card as their male counterparts; not on a separate one. There is no distinction nor separation required.
If we look ahead to upcoming events in the UFC’s calendar, I would hazard a guess that I’m not alone in saying that the fight I am often most excited to watch is that of the women’s bout on the card. For me, it is an exciting thing to evaluate Rousey’s competition, to consider how Holly Holm will continue her transition into MMA, and to predict how the women’s 115lbs division will grow and develop over the coming years.
In time, I hope to see a major UFC event headlined by a women’s bantamweight title bout and co-headlined by a women’s strawweight title bout. I predict you’d be hard pressed to find any male UFC fighter who would question being placed on that undercard.
To those people who continue to question women’s place within the sport of mixed martial arts, I understand. But I also encourage you to take the time to understand this sport, to watching these women train and perform, and to learn of the inspirational stories which exist within each and every female fighter.
When it comes to women’s MMA, I am excited to look ahead and contemplate where we might go from here.
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