(Is the women’s bantamweight division still reliant on the star power of its champion? / Photo via Getty)
By Adam Martin
For years, UFC president Dana White was firmly against bringing women into the Octagon to fight in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
In 2011, just two years ago, White told TMZ that women would “never” fight for his promotion. And yet now, in 2013, there are 15 women signed to a Zuffa contract and the UFC women’s bantamweight division is quickly becoming one of the promotion’s most crowd-pleasing weight classes.
So what changed?
The answer is simple: Ronda Rousey emerged as a superstar, and it’s Rousey that has singlehandedly brought women’s MMA into the mainstream — although White must be praised for giving her and other female fighters the platform to perform.
Now I really hate admitting this is the case, because I have been a fan of women’s fights ever since the HOOKnSHOOT days and I want to believe it was all of the women in sum putting on great fights that changed White’s mind, but it’s not a coincidence that White’s softened stance on allowing females to compete in the UFC coincided with Rousey’s unbeaten run to the top of the sport.
White, who is one of the smartest promoters in all of combat sports, was quick to realize Rousey could be a draw based on her good looks and vicious fighting style, and therefore make his company a lot of money, and the decision was made to bring her along with some other notable 135-pound females into the UFC earlier this year as a test drive of sorts.
And so far, the ride has been nothing but smooth.
UFC 157, which took place in February, featured not only the first women’s fight in UFC history but it was also the first UFC event to be headlined by two female fighters (Rousey and Liz Carmouche), and yet it did 450,000 PPV buys and a $1.35-million U.S. gate despite having a poor undercard. To the UFC, those numbers were a huge success and a slew of ladies were quickly signed by White and Co., who realized the fans loved Rousey vs. Carmouche and that they’d probably enjoy watching even more women fight.