Let me make a somewhat dirty confession. Between studying martial arts and watching a lot of Kung Fu movies as a teenager and coming to my senses and paying attention to MMA a few years back, my main combat ‘sport’ of choice was professional wrestling.
Given that my early 20s coincided with the dawn of the Internet forum culture, I must have spent an insane number of hours ‘fantasy booking’ the next Road to Wrestlemania, or shocking heel turn or saving TNA or whatever scenario comes to mind.
I really enjoyed that, and I’m minded to apply the same approach to MMA. Of course, MMA is a real sport, so unlike pro wrestling where I can specify in match events, characterisation and decide who wins to give the preferred narrative, in MMA the booker has much less control.
All an MMA booker can do is match fighters together that they feel will have compelling matches – styles make fights, after all – and try and arrange the various matches in a division to produce fighters with momentum who will be in a position to make a credible and hopefully popular title contender, whoever happens to win those matches.
Or of course, you can book whoever you want into high profile matches, based on their perceived box office appeal, regardless of their recent win-loss record.
My personal preference is for the former approach, based solely on credibility but that format leads us down the tournament road which has caused Bellator no end of problems with scheduling etc. and it can also be accused of rewarding fighters who play safe and accrue lengthy but dull win streaks over fighters who attempt to finish fights and thereby get caught every once in a while.
For all that it is a sport and credibility should always be a prime consideration, MMA is also an entertainment business which relies on fan’s emotional investment in fighters, which is a factor which can transcend such banal considerations as winning streaks.
A middle ground has to be reached. Serious MMA promotions cannot repeatedly give title shots to popular but oft-losing fighters (no John Cenas here) just as they cannot wholly rely on fighters with exceptional win streaks but lacking in personality.
With that mission in mind, I intend to bend my thoughts to the MMA booking conundrums of the day, starting with how the UFC can build their Women’s division with as little an investment in time and personnel not named Ronda Rousey as possible, seeing as that seems to be their intent.
There must be a way to build a working division, to increase awareness of the wider pantheon of WMMA while maintaining their spotlight on Ronda and not investing heavily in new talent (which has the added advantage of leaving most female talent free to gain ring time and exposure in Invicta FC.)
The UFC Women’s (Bantamweight) Division in 2013
Let’s start with what we know. Ronda Rousey is set to defend against Liz Carmouche at UFC 157 with a bout against Cristiane ‘Cyborg’ Santos pencilled in for after that.
Lets say we’ve got three fight days for the girls, one in February, one in midsummer and one in October or November.
I propose that the UFC transfer the contract of another handful of Strikeforce Bantamweights, namely Sarah Kaufman, Miesha Tate, Sarah McMann and Cat Zingano as well as wrapping things up with Santos and snaring one from whoever wins the Invicta FC bouts between Shayna Baszler and Alexis Davis or Sarah D’Alellio in January.
That’s an investment in eight fighter contracts to start with, surely that’s nothing for the UFC?
So, in February we have Rousey vs. Carmouche for the belt, but I think it would be a good idea to try and spread some of that spotlight around.
Of course, it’s probably too soon for whoever gets picked up from Invicta and its definitely too soon for ‘Cyborg’ as she sensibly takes some time to cut down to 135lbs. That leaves us four female fighters – two established names that have fallen to Rousey before (Tate and Kaufman) and two as yet undefeated up & comers in the shape of McMann and Zingano.
That sounds like the brackets of a mini tournament to me. Of course, it’s probably not best to announce it as such, but having Tate vs. Kaufman and Zingano vs. McMann on the undercard of UFC 157 (or a card shortly afterwards if the UFC really want to milk Rousey vs. Carmouche as the first women’s match in the promotion) is a good way to get some momentum for girls not named Ronda Rousey.
However those matches turn out, we have a slot picked out for the second coming of the girls in mid summer. Assuming Rousey is victorious, she’ll be set to defend the belt against the new and somewhat svelter Cristiane Santos.
Of course, Liz Carmouche might well upset the apple cart and win the belt. If she does so in decisive fashion, she would then be looking to defend against Cyborg but in the case of a close or controversial finish and given Rousey’s star power and the UFC’s investment in her, we might be looking at a rematch.
However that works out, we either have Rousey or Carmouche coming off a loss or Cyborg left in the wind while a rematch plays out. This is where our signing from Invicta comes in to fill the void in a match that could prove to be a huge opportunity.
We’ll also have the winners (and losers) of our mini tournament bouts facing off, hoping to create a new #1 contender with a winning streak in the UFC.
In our autumn window for the girls, we should have a champion – either Rousey, Carmouche or Santos and a number one contender with a 2-0 streak in the UFC alone.
Flesh out the card with the other six girls, matching winners to winners and losers to losers where possible and no one cane accuse the UFC of not giving the girls a fair crack. Hell, it’s a more cohesive plan than Strikeforce have been using for he past few years…
Whether that contender is Tate, Kaufman, McMann or Zingano doesn’t really matter (although McMann’s Olympic credentials and unbeaten streak make her the ideal result in my eyes) but by this time, Zuffa should have a good idea whether the experiment with the girls is working out and whether its worth investing in a deeper division or adding the lighter divisions.
I fully believe that the girls would thrive on the brightest stage, given just the fair opportunity to do so, and perhaps a little TV time on shows like UFC Primetime to get their personalities across.
Here, I’ve tried to lay out a scheme where the UFC could dip their toe in the water of a full women’s division with a limited commitment (given their evident skepticism for non blond, non mouthy, non Olympic medallist judokas) and a credible idea of what they’re expecting from it. In reality, it’s no more than they dedicated to the Flyweights and given the existing name value of Rousey and Cyborg, has an excellent chance of success.
Now, does anyone have any other suggestions for the book?