Herald the Dawn of WMMA

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Yesterday, it all became official and Ronda Rousey was named as the first UFC Women’s Bantamweight champion with her first defence (against Liz Carmouche) pencilled in as the headliner of UFC 157 in February.

Yeah, WMMA has come a long way, especially in the last few years and while I’m stoked that the girls are getting a chance on the biggest stage, I still don’t feel that Dana White ‘taking a chance’ on Ronda is the most important thing going on in WMMA.

That’s because the most important thing going on in WMMA is Invicta FC. A company devoted to building whole divisions of female fighters, of bringing them together and giving them the platform to shine. Hell, their first champion, Jessica Penne is in the much overlooked Atomweight (105lb) division that I don’t remember seeing getting any airtime anywhere else.

Put it this way, I’m a big MMA fan and I spend a chunk of my time scouring the net for MMA news that might evade a more casual observer and I’ve learned more about WMMA in the last year than I had in the previous three years, largely thanks to Invicta raising the bar and opening up coverage and opportunities for the girls.

Now, I’m not saying Ronda Rousey isn’t the face of Women’s MMA, because she blatantly is and her accolades including her Olympic medal, her unbeaten streak of first round submission stoppages, the fact that she’s kinda pretty and tends to make the sort of headline grabbing, inflammatory statements that media and promoters love have elevated her to a level of attention unprecedented by any previous female fighter.

That can only be good for the whole of the women’s game. However, such is Ronda’s star that the UFC seem to have hitched their whole WMMA experiment to it, and that is in my view a mistake.

Successful and legitimate MMA promotion is about building divisions, a whole stable of fighters who will organically generate challengers for whoever is holding the belt. When this works you get examples like the UFC have at Middleweight where there are three or four guys with a legitimate case to be next in line and that creates a pleasant problem for promoters and gives us fans something to argue about.

In order to do this for the girls, the UFC would need to sign a whole batch of female 135lb fighters, at least another seven (given they have the bulk of the Strikeforce 135lb division under Zuffa contract, this shouldn’t be a problem) and preferably a full division of upwards of twenty fighters to allow them to generate challengers internally and organically.

This would also allow them to make a big deal out of girls not named Ronda Rousey so that when one of them eventually beats her (and this is MMA, eventually everyone loses) the division is not a total dead loss and can continue.

However, what we have is Liz Carmouche, pulled out of the hat as apparently the only girl who wanted the fight on the UFC’s preferred timeline, but with the promotion clearly expecting Ronda to dispose of her by first round armbar to set up the fight with Cristiane ‘Cyborg’ Santos which should come afterwards.

No mention of Miesha Tate, Sara McMann, Sarah Kaufman, Alexis Davis, Cat Zingano et al being brought in and given some UFC limelight and that’s a real shame.

When the UFC brought the guys Featherweights and Bantamweights in from the WEC, they imported whole divisions and expanded the number of cards to accommodate them. When they added the Flyweights, they ran a four man tournament to decide the champion and brought a boatload of other guys in as well.

For the girls, we get the Rousey show, which is great but it’s like a side-show, a circus attraction. Very flashy and high profile, but

Let’s go back to Liz Carmouche, our somewhat overlooked challenger, who is in many ways the antithesis of Rousey in fighting style and is more than capable of amusing an upset. She’s riding a 2-0 win streak from her fights in 2012, and where did those fights take place? Invicta FC.

This is the same Invicta FC who are running their fourth event on January 5th, headlined by a Straw-weight (115lb) title fight between Carla Esparza and Claudia Gadelha, with an undercard featuring bouts between Shayna Baszler and Alexis Davis and Amanda Nunes and Sarah d’Alellio which have real significance for Rousey’s 135lb division.

The card also features the Invicta debut of Aussie fighter Bec Hyatt against returning Scot’s Muay Thai machine, Joanne Calderwood, a fight I am particularly looking forward to.

What’s more, it’ll stream live and free, internationally on http://www.invictafc.com.

My point is simply this. It’s great that Ronda Rousey has been embraced by the UFC, but there is so much more to Women’s MMA than one mouthy blond judoka. If you’ve got a mind to witness some top quality female fights, then by all means watch Ronda’s pay per view debut, but also check out Invicta. You will not be disappointed, and it’ll cost you nothing.

Ronda may be the star of women’s MMA, but Invicta is the dawn, spreading the light far and wide and illuminating more than one single spark.

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