Opinion: The Evolution of Women’s MMA
By Jesse Heitz
Women’s Mixed Martial Arts has certainly come a long way in the past several years. This is not entirely undue to the ever increasing level of talent that is flooding into the women’s division, particularly that of Strikeforce. Not all that long ago women’s MMA was viewed by many fans and prominent figures within the sport as somewhat of a sideshow attraction.
The concept of women fighting professionally was deemed to be a novel idea, one that would be embraced by a small following of dedicated fight fans, but regarded as the opening act for the bulk of fight fans. After all, they’d probably fight like girls, an ugly business not resembling a sport.
Yet, even fans that were once skeptical have been given every reason to support women’s MMA. The most important reason being, that they can fight. Women such as “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey, Miesha “Cupcake” Tate, Marloes “Rumina” Coenen, Hiroko “Cat’s Eye” Yamanaka and countless others have not only established themselves as top level athletes and exceptional fighters, but also put on numerous entertaining bouts.
The incredible success of the August 18, Strikeforce: Rousey vs. Kaufman card, which drew an average of 529,000 viewers, peaking at nearly 650,000 viewers for the main event, clearly shows that women’s MMA sells. This figure well eclipsed any other Strikeforce card for the year. Even more unusual is that the second highest rated of Strikeforce’s 2012 cards was also headlined by a woman’s bout, in this case the card was Strikeforce: Tate vs. Rousey, which drew an average of 479,000 viewers.
What’s truly amazing is that the 500,000+ viewers that tuned into Showtime to watch an event headlined by female fighters was significantly larger than the viewership figures that had been turned in for this year’s Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix or Strikeforce: Rockhold vs. Kennedy cards, neither of which could come close to eclipsing the 500,000 viewer figures on the same network.
While the stunning success at Strikeforce is undoubtedly a massive step in the right direction for women’s MMA, the Promised Land still remains the UFC, the largest and most prestigious mixed martial arts promotion in the sport today. In order for women’s MMA to have a shot at being thought of as equal to that of men’s MMA, it needs to be featured front and center on the grandest stage in the business.
Unfortunately UFC President, Dana White, has long been an opponent of women’s MMA being incorporated into the UFC. Yet the brilliant success of Ronda Rousey, and her growing track record of attracting viewers—and by extension money, has even the UFC boss “warming up to the idea” of a women’s division being added to the UFC lineup.
I doubt that the inclusion of women’s MMA into the UFC, or even its widespread acceptance within the sport’s growing fan base, is on the immediate horizon. It’s undoubtedly a process that will take some time. However, it is undeniable that women’s MMA is well on its way to receiving the recognition and fan support that it has proven itself more than deserving of.