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Exclusive: Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney Says He’ll Give Displaced Female Strikeforce Fighters a Home if Zuffa Decides to Axe Women’s MMA

(“Give me your fired, your poor, your troubled Diazes yearning for THC, blacklisted fighters you don’t want any more…”)

When the news dropped last month that the UFC had bought Strikeforce, one of the least talked about stories was where would the move leave Strikeforce’s contracted female fighters, should Zuffa decide to cease promoting women’s MMA. UFC president Dana White has long been a vocal opponent of having women fight for him as there aren’t, in his opinion, enough top female fighters to make it a worthwhile endeavor.

In spite of White’s proclamation that both companies would be running “business as usual,” after the purchase, there have already been a significant number of changes to the company that have fans, fighters and pundits are left wondering if Strikeforce’s fighting females have a secure future with their new employer.

During an appearance she made on The Bum Rush Radio Show a week prior to the purchase, Strikeforce women’s welterweight champion Marloes Coenen had the following to say about the organization when it was still owned by Scott Coker, one of female MMA’s biggest boosters:

“If you’re a female fighter there’s only one organization you want to fight for and it’s Strikeforce. At the moment, they’re the leading organization worldwide [for women's MMA], so it’s quite simple. If you’re not with Strikeforce, you’re nowhere.”

Now fighters like Coenen, Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos, Gina Carano, Sarah Kaufman and Meisha Tate are all stuck in a state of limbo wondering if (and if so, when) they will fight for Strikeforce, and if the promotion is absorbed by the UFC, like the WFA, the WEC and PRIDE were before it, if they’ll ever be welcomed into the Octagon by White.

Well, the ladies can rest easy knowing that they will have a home if things go south with Strikeforce.

We spoke to Bjorn Rebney recently about the possibilty of picking up the displaced Strikeforce female fighters should they be dropped by the promotion and the Bellator CEO said that he would definitely be open to working with them if they find themselves unemployed.

“We have a great foundation in place with hugely talented female fighters, so the interest in continuing to promote and market the women’s game is surely there. But as it relates to the women who are under Strikeforce long and short-term contracts, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens,” he says. “If they end up as free agents because Zuffa continues to not market and promote women’s fights,  without question that would be of interest to us. There are some hugely talented ladies who are fighting, were fighting or may be fighting under that banner in the future.”

Rebney, who feels that by Strikeforce combining forces with the UFC to form a conglomerate of sorts, his promotion has definitively taken over as the number two promotion, says that, like everyone else that is wondering what will happen to the California-based operation, Bellator will just have to wait and see how things play out in the short and long term.

“Nobody knows at this point whether or not Zuffa is going to keep promoting women’s MMA.  At this point, all the women who were contracted to Strikeforce are still contracted to Strikeforce because they’re still in operation until they’re no longer in operation,” Rebney explains. “I don’t know at this point what’s going to happen, but I can say that there are some tremendously talented women who have, kind of in an on-again-off-again structure fought for Strikeforce. We’ve had some great success and some great luck with women’s fights with fighters like Megumi Fujii, Zoila Frausto, Rosi Sexton, Jessica Aguilar and others.”

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RwilsonR- April 16, 2011 at 11:53 pm
@ Chromium - the points you make are not new points, but I think they overestimate the marketability of female fighters. The MOST generous estimate would be 50% of hardcore fans like WMMA. But hardcore fans don't make up the bulk of the tickets. And while the WNBA might not be the best analogy, neither is tennis, or any other sport, really. The reason is because of the natural revulsion of men watching women hit/injure each other. No women are getting their ass kicked in tennis. Whether you want to attribute this to genetics, to socialized gender roles, or whatever... it just is a lot tougher and less acceptable to watch women beating the shit out of each other. The failure of women's boxing may be the most apt comparison.

Personally, I don't think they bring the same level of skill I want to see on the limited number of televised fights on the limited number of UFC cards.
And if anyone wants to argue the inarguable in terms of MMA ability of women vs men (as Josh Barnett stupidly did when he said Mega Megu would beat GSP if she weighed 170), then let them fight the men of the same weight class. Cyborg is only questionably female, and if anyone thinks she would last 10 seconds against Jose Aldo they are stupid or lying. Same goes for Gina Carano if she fought a guy in her weight class, like Butterbean.
Chromium- April 16, 2011 at 9:18 pm
Tai-Pan Says:
"Oh come the fuck on, nobody watches the WNBA or any other womens sports and no one is going to watch women fight either, unless its foxy boxing or some shit."

Okay this sort of idiocy needs to stop. I know a lot of MMA fans aren't into women's MMA, but what I don't get is the retarded attitude where half the MMA fans who aren't into MMA insist that no one is into it or could possibly watch it. I think the ratings have generally said otherwise.

Furthermore the WNBA is a stupid (and vastly overused) analogy. There aren't going to be all-female MMA events in the major leagues. What's more, an all-flyweight event would fail too at this point, for the same reason, and that's because of a lack of well-known talent.

There are plenty of good female fighters, some of whom have absolutely elite grappling skill, and plenty of fun fights. Yes, if someone isn't top 3 in their division, match-making 101 is that one of the fighters in a WMMA fight should be passably attractive, but men are judged in this sport by their looks too, just not to the same extent (why do you think Todd Duffee was the guy who made magazine covers and was the far more heavily hyped fighter ahead of his fight with Mike Russow, when Russow had at least as good a resume?)

Anyway, Women's Tennis isn't at the same level as Men's Tennis either, but they get just as good ratings as Men's Tennis when they're both in the same events (which is most tennis events), and produce just as many stars. I don't think Women's MMA will attract an equal following, but I could definitely see female fighters making up 15% or so of Zuffa's roster in a couple years. It would be a supplement to the rest of any given card. Also it makes a lot of sense for Zuffa to hold onto those divisions just so no one else can have them. If Zuffa controls the top fighters at W145, W135, and maybe even W125, they can keep that port of entry closed for any would-be start-up competitors looking to challenge Dana White "with a big sack of cash and a huge set of balls." If a start-up competitor decided they wanted to mount a serious challenge to Dana White and managed to wrest some top fighters for the UFC, why let them supplement that with free access to all the top female fighters in the sport? Narrow the point-of-entry.
PauliostheGreat- April 16, 2011 at 3:50 pm
As someone who enjoys the sport of MMA and knowing a few female fighters, I think women fight harder than some of the men. For anyone who doesn't believe that, I would watch any female fight over an Anderson Silva fight where he runs the whole time. I've never seen a boring womens fight. Yeah they might not have the knockout power a guy has, but the fughts are damn exciting and non stop. Dana should move the girls to UFC. And if your saying they aren't marketable, besides Cyborg and a couple of others, a lot of the female fighters are damn good looking.
Tai-Pan- April 16, 2011 at 11:31 am
Oh come the fuck on, nobody watches the WNBA or any other womens sports and no one is going to watch women fight either, unless its foxy boxing or some shit.
haus66- April 16, 2011 at 9:56 am
Shallow talent pool? Lack of marketability? How about an all female Ultimate Fighter season with Coenan and Tate as coaches? Shit, that show is stale and played out already, so it's certainly not going to hurt.
ReX13- April 16, 2011 at 8:59 am
Check out Hitomi Akano, Megumi Fujii, Liz Carmouche, Carla Esparza, Amanda Nunes, Rosi Sexton, Jessica Aguilar, Julie Kedzie, Zoila Frausto (she shouldn't have gotten the belt, but she's explosive)...i'm obviously forgetting some, but there are enough skilled women to start a couple of divisions, probably 125 and 135. This is on top of the few women that everyone knows about, like Tate, Roxy, Kaufman, and Coenen. If a promotion actually tried to put on matches regularly, interest would follow. Now people can barely remember who has fought who and who stands where.
ReX13- April 16, 2011 at 8:51 am
Ya'll check out the big brain on Clyde, making sense and shit.
Clyde- April 16, 2011 at 8:12 am
I think Dana is more opposed to them being in the UFC than he is to Women's MMA. It's a catch 22 that he doesn't really want them in the UFC because the talent pool is so much shallower, but it's difficult for women's MMA to develop and attract more fighters if they can't get a spot on the biggest stage MMA has.

To some extent, It's not even the fact that they're not as good as the male fighters as RWR says. As long as a bout is competetive, it doesn't matter as much that you're not watching the two greatest fighters in the world/division/promotion. It's more important to have good fights than good fighters.

The sport needs somewhere to grow, so good on Bjorn. Maybe the UFC could just start bringing in the ladies in for matches before the main card starts, and then build up a roster and televise any good fights, get some good archive footage and give it a chance.
RwilsonR- April 16, 2011 at 7:20 am
Nobody, including Dana, said women don't have the right to fight. It is just whether it is marketable and people want to watch it. Personally, I find it slower and less skilled, with a much shallower pool of competition. Doesn't mean I don't think they work just as hard in the gym to prepare. They simply don't have the physical tools to make it that interesting to me. Gina Carano was a novelty who had some popularity, though her ability as a marketable fighter was always overstated, because Kimbo was the one selling those cards. Other than her small moment, there has never been any indication that women's MMA will sell any better to the audience than women's basketball. I hope Dana keeps it off the UFC shows for good.
Peppered 2 Death- April 15, 2011 at 6:29 pm
Dana wants to put a good product out there and he doesnt feel that the womans division would be deep enough to make it worthwhile. Last womans fight I watched Cyborg thought she won the fight about 3 times getting up on top of the cage twice before the ref stopped it. I have hard enough time taking that awkward looking female ref serious.
ReX13- April 15, 2011 at 5:55 pm
i'm all mad and shit, rwilsonr.

RwilsonR- April 15, 2011 at 5:32 pm
Sorry Rex... didn't mean it. I just don't much like the girl fights.
RwilsonR- April 15, 2011 at 5:32 pm
Shit! As if Rex isn't already long-winded enough. Now when he does the Bellator write-ups we can get read every second of the non-action of the women's matches.
torxxx- April 15, 2011 at 3:33 pm
I can't believe Dana won't support Women's MMA. they have just as much of a right in the ring/cage/octagon/pentagon etc as men do. If they wanna beat the shit out of each other and look sexy doing it (Gina Carano) is fine with me. I'd prefer to watch women fight than men.

Zuffa might find that they can bring in an even bigger crowd and a new group of viewers if they brought womens mma to the UFC..
dim mak- April 15, 2011 at 3:13 pm
@Fried--have fun dealing with Cyborg when you try to change the channel from Lifetime.
Fried Taco- April 15, 2011 at 3:12 pm
Found the tweet:
@LouiseCaller ok, just saw what u asked. We will have to see what happens. I don't hate it I'm actually a kerry vera fan!
Fried Taco- April 15, 2011 at 3:09 pm
BTW, if you look at Dana's twitter, he responded to some women the other day who was asking about the SF women, basically saying he was not ruling out keeping the women. And of course he's never lied or misled anyone before.
Fried Taco- April 15, 2011 at 3:06 pm
Too late, Bjorn, I've already offered them my home.
ReX13- April 15, 2011 at 2:43 pm
If this is true, why is Sam Caplan dragging his feet on a women's 125 tourney?
dim mak- April 15, 2011 at 2:40 pm
The UFC's stance on women's MMA is embarrassing. Women are there to dress in skimpy outfits and be oggled, but can't fight. If it's really a sport, and not human cockfighting, then let women in. Grow up, Dana.
Kid Clam Curtains- April 15, 2011 at 2:31 pm