“When are we going to see women in the UFC?”
Straight like that. There was no contemplation or consideration whatsoever. White was convinced that there was no place for women throwing down in his organization. It wasn’t necessarily a sexist point of view from White, rather, an observation that the talent pool in women’s MMA wasn’t very deep. Even though women like Gina Carano were proving to be viable draws in the sport, White wasn’t convinced.
A couple of months after White’s emphatic “No” echoed throughout the MMA world, a young lady by the name of Ronda Rousey was making her MMA debut. Rousey wasn’t your average girl trying to get into MMA, the California native was the first American woman to earn an Olympic medal in Judo back at the 2008 Summer Olympics. There weren’t very many alternatives for a Judo medalist after the Olympics. “There’s nothing put in place for Olympians after they’re done,” Rousey said in an interview with MTV’s Guy Code in 2012. “They give you a couple grand, a handshake and they kick your ass out the door.” So with a pocket full of lint and a dream, Rousey figured that she’d give MMA a shot. If that failed, it was off to the Marine Corps.
Well, as you can see today, she’s not in the Marines.
A year after her debut, Rousey had snared away the Strikeforce Women’s Bantamweight championship from Miesha Tate with a gruesome arm bar. She was 5-0 with five submissions in the first round — all by that patented arm bar. Aside from the fact that Rousey’s skill set and ability to trash talk with the best of them had captured the attention of the MMA world, it didn’t hurt that Rousey was extremely easy on the eyes. And when you’re in the business of making money, you absolutely cannot pass up on a golden opportunity. So, that hardened stance that Dana White took against women’s MMA in the UFC softened. In August of 2011, White invited Rousey to the very venue where he emphatically told TMZ that women weren’t welcome in the UFC. The occasion? To tell the undefeated fighter that she would be the first woman to fight inside of the lauded Octagon.
Although White had gotten over his insecurities of breaking the gender barrier in the UFC, when it was announced that Rousey would be the main event at UFC 157 against Liz Carmouche, it was apparent that not everyone was singing the same song about women in the sport. With a #1 contender match between Lyoto Machida and Dan Henderson bumped to co-main event, some fans groaned their disapproval on numerous message boards. Some stated that Rousey was being exploited for financial gain, others launched ill advised sexist jokes and there were a few that went so far as suggesting that White and Rousey were in a relationship.
Nevertheless, as February 23rd approached, the hype machine fired into overdrive as the media circus followed Rousey wherever she went. With outlets ranging from ESPN to HBO clamoring to get some time with the UFC’s first women’s champion, White realized that he had never seen a fighter garner this much attention from mainstream media. Yeah, it was definitely a big deal.
Obviously, the thought had to cross his mind as to what would happen if Rousey somehow managed to lose. Sure, Carmouche had a great story being the first female fighter to come out as an openly gay woman, but this was Ronda’s world and everyone else is a squirrel just trying to get a nut. So when the two finally stepped into the cage at the Honda Center, the moment of truth had arrived.
With the Henderson-Machida fight that some thought should have been the main event ending up being a dud, even more pressure had been shoveled onto Rousey’s UFC debut. And at 9 p.m. pacific time in front of 15,525 fans, history was going to be made.
Would Rousey – a 12-1 favorite – claim her seventh victim with yet another arm bar? It sure seemed that way as Rousey swiftly wrestled Carmouche to the ground in the opening minute. Taking her usual side headlock position, “Rowdy” set herself up to slap on the submission hold. However, Carmouche was well prepared and managed to slip around and take Rousey’s back. In no more than 60 seconds, Carmouche went from victim to possible spoiler as she wrapped her arms around Rousey’s face and went from a choke to a neck crank. It was evident that Rousey was in trouble as her face turned a deep red and Carmouche cranked away with the rambunctious crowd anticipating a huge upset. But Rousey trained for moments like this and managed to shake Carmouche off of her back. With the crowd roaring their approval, the woman’s champ swiftly went back to work and slid back into the side headlock position and rained down punches for the next minute to soften Carmouche up. Moments later, Rousey was trapping her opponent’s arm as panic surely raced through Carmouche’s mind. She held on for dear life but at the 4:49 mark, she could fight no more as Rousey yanked her left arm and torqued the elbow.
And just like that, it was over.
Another arm bar and another victim for the newly minted UFC women’s bantamweight champion. Just two years ago Rousey was collecting tips as a bartender, today she can give tips to little girls across the globe who want to become an MMA fighter. It may seem quick to many, but it was years of hard work for Rousey to finally take her seat as the undisputed queen of women’s MMA and the flag bearer into the new frontier. “One thing I had to learn in MMA is to be patient and take my time,” Rousey said afterwards as her words had more than one meaning. With her naysayers silenced, the 26-year-old can rest knowing that what transpired on February 23, 2013 will forever be significant to women’s sports.
As Rousey exited the cage, Beyonce’s “Run The World (Girls)” blared from the arena speakers. Rousey can’t speak for all women, but this one definitely runs MMA. Perhaps the rest of the world may not be too far behind.