In For A Penny, In For More Than 135lbs

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In which Chris discusses the UFC’s limited approach to it’s WMMA experiment…

First, let me make it clear that I’m incredibly excited by this weekends first women’s bout in the UFC and I couldn’t be more behind the promotion’s decision – after many years of rubbishing the very suggestion – to give the girls a shot.

A few months ago, I posted an article lauding Invicta FC as being more important for WMMA than the UFC’s little experiment, largely in the basis that it appeared to be (and very much remains) the Ronda Rousey show.

To date, Rousey has seen the vast majority of the UFC’s promotional weight in the lead up to her pay per view debut and while Liz Carmouche has received exponentially more exposure than she ever has before, even when challenging for the Strikeforce title, it’s clear that she’s the antagonist in the UFC’s narrative, the heel of the month brought in to face the champion.
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I’ve stated elsewhere that I don’t feel Carmouche is the mere speed bump or can for Rousey to crush that many do – in fact I’m going to put my money where my mouth is because 13/2 odds on a UFC match are pretty rare these days – but I remain concerned about the UFC’s Rousey-centric approach. Thus far, we have only six girls on the UFC’s books, with four of them booked to fight…

I don’t doubt for a second that Ronda Rousey has been central to the rise of WMMA to the UFC (ill go into that in another piece) but you can’t build a weight class, much less one whole gender division of a globally popular sport on only one fighter.

This leads me to two main questions.

1- What if Liz wins, or what if Ronda gets injured?

and

2- What about all those girls in other weight classes?

Lets deal with them in turn.

1- What if Liz wins, or what if Ronda gets injured?

Given that the UFC has made no bones about the fact that they see this as the Ronda Rousey division, Dana White’s assertion that the project would continue with their full backing should she not be the champion rings a little hollow.

Should Liz Carmouche defeat Ronda via any means on Saturday, who would be surprised if the immediate decision was for a rematch, no matter how dominant her victory was?

Similarly, if Ronda retained the belt but suffered a lengthy Dominick Cruz style injury, would the UFC follow normal protocol and create an interim belt, perhaps stripping Rousey of the title if she couldn’t return in a reasonable amount of time?

Can you really see the UFC pushing ahead with Carmouche vs. Miesha Tate or Cat Zingano as a pay per view or FOX main event? I’d love to be proven wrong, but I can’t help but feel that shorn of Rousey, the UFC would allow the division to lapse, en route to being mothballed as they once did with the Lightweight division.

Sound implausible? Well check it out, it happened before…

2- What about all those girls in other weight classes?

The UFC has adopted the 135lb weight class, because that’s where Rousey was, with the secondary thought that they had a ready made and half-built field of bantamweight women to inherit from Strikeforce. However, as I’ve said they’ve only picked up six girls so far, with the likes of Sarah Kaufman allowed to join Invicta (in her case, probably because she is Rousey’s most recent victim and would require significant building up before another title opportunity at Rousey.)

When Cristiane Santos torpedoed any notion of dropping to 135lbs to face Rousey for the belt the UFC released her, a stark sign that they have no interest at even the most previously exposed female division (145, largely thanks to the popularity of Gina Carano) other than Rouseyweight.
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While the lighter women’s divisions have long been perceived as shallow, Invicta FC (along with Bellator and Cage Warriors) has shown that in truth, these divisions are merely underexposed, with standout contests getting real MMA fans talking from 125 pounds down to 105 pounds. Can anyone really say that Sara McMann or Cat Zingano DESERVE to be in the UFC as being objectively BETTER than Jessica Penne, Carla Esparza or Joanne Calderwood? Don’t be daft, they’re just the right size…
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It is my sincere belief that WMMA requires only further exposure in which to thrive, a belief which is proven by the success of every successive Invicta show.

Can anyone REALY argue that the likes of Alexis Davis, Bec Hyatt, Felice Herrig or any one of a laundry list of Invicta standouts would look out of place in the UFC? Can anyone argue that the likes of Joanne Calderwood, Jessica Eye or Katja Kankaanpaa would fail to impress with their in-ring abilities? Can anyone doubt that for the investment of a few Countdown to… or Primetime specials, WMMA could produce a star very nearly as big & lucrative as Georges St-Pierre?

So long as the UFC treat WMMA as a mechanism to ride the wave of Rousey’s popularity, rather than develop a fully functioning 135lb division or devote the relatively meagre resources required to building other divisions, it remains a possibility that the axe could fall at any time and the whole project is tied inextricably to Rousey’s success, popularity and health.

If MMA history has taught us anything, it’s that even the greatest run comes to an end, any competitor’s popularity can, indeed WILL falter at some point and that putting all your promotional eggs in one basket is suicide. I really don’t want to see the UFC’s experiment with WMMA go the same way as Fedor’s legacy, or Affliction, Elite XC…

The UFC’s tentative steps with WMMA plays into the popular believe among a portion of MMA ‘fans’ that girls can’t or shouldn’t fight, a portion who believe that WMMA is by default of a lower standard than its male counterpart and who are actually offended by the concept of girls headlining above ‘proper’ fighters like Dan Henderson and Lyoto Machida and have filled forums with bile about refusing to buy the PPV for that reason…

What vile drivel, spouted by insecure bigots who follow MMA more for macho points by association than any concept of sport or skill.

In my view, MMA as a sport needs to do all it can to evolve past such preconceptions, which go hand in hand with the political barriers the sport faces across the world. Girls can fight, at the highest level and its in the interests of those invested in the sport to facilitate that, even if it flies in the face of a more knuckle dragging portion of the fanbase.

STOP PRESS:

The UFC tonight announced the cut of 16 fighters, including big names like Jon Fitch and Che Mills with rumours abounding courtesy of MMA Junkie that the UFC are looking to cut 100 fighters this year. That doesn’t bode well for an already underpopulated and underexposed Women’s division…

I hope I’m wrong, I really do.

Come on Dana, invest in the girls. All the girls. They won’t let you down.

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