Women's MMA - Deep Potential

posted by MarQFPR, a Women Talk Sports blogger
Thursday, April 21, 2011 at 4:41am EDT

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Strikeforce Grand Prix Participants Courtesy Ester Lin

Okay. I admit it. There are more male fighters than females in MMA. Does that mean there is no depth in the women’s division? Absolutely not.

I was recently a guest on MMA Gospel Radio, debating with one of their reporters, Dan Griffin, about women’s MMA and the possibility of the UFC doing a division if they were to merge the Strikeforce brand. (You can read his article here.) From his prospective, there isn’t enough quality fighters to sustain the division; something that many people including Dana White has cited as the problem. Here is my arguments for a women’s division in the UFC.


GFight Summit 2010 (left to right) Shayna Baszler, Tara LaRosa

Barb Honchak, Sarah Kaufman, Julie Kedzie, Kaitlin Young

1) Current pro fighter depth is NOT A PROBLEM….. 

At least not in the 135 pound and 125 pound divisions. According to the Fightergirls database, there are 123 active pro 135 pound fighters; and in the pro 125 pound division, there are 147. This doesn’t include the many amateur fighters who are going to make their debut with in the next few months.


Amateurs Taylor Stratord (10-1) vs. Ashlee Evans-Smith 

2) Experience is NOT A PROBLEM

The argument that amateur fights “don’t count” is true – when it comes to rankings. Amateur fights means a lot when it comes to experience. Four years ago, the idea of an amateur female fighter was rare. Very few promotions would do an amateur female card due to few fighters and not enough popularity. That has drastically changed when Gina Carano’s popularity. All female amateur cards can be seen every two-three months, and you are seeing twice as many amateur fights then their pro counterparts. 

The brilliance of being amateur – you can learn from losses and not have it effect your record. A lot of the top pro fighters weren’t given that opportunity.

A fighter still has to beat a ranked fighter to be listed no doubt, but they do have experience.

As for the “UFC only wants the best” argument – I see in the heavyweight division of their 24 fighters, several have had 6 fights or less before debuting in the UFC. Pat Barry only had 3 pro fights before making his UFC debut. With the current run of independent promotion and amount of female fights on a weekly basis, having 6-8 fights by the time of the possible merger is more possible for a lot of debuting fighters.


Fighter & T.V. star Gina Carano

3) What’s in a name? A LOT… 

I give you Brock Lesnar – a 1-0 fighter who entered the UFC. That 1-0 was pro, with no amateur fights. Dana White stated that he “had to prove himself”. He soon lost to Frank Mir, and White decided to keep him. Why? Because he was a marketable fighter.

From what Mr. Griffin stated, this was a rare occurrence.

I give you Gina Carano. The “Female Face of MMA” is 7-1, and has been proven time and time again to be a huge draw when it comes to ticket sales and ratings. Carano currently has two of the top ten most watch MMA fights in history, a budding movie career, and is as popular, if not more, than Lesnar. White had said he wants the UFC to be more main stream; you can’t get more main stream than Carano.

She isn’t the only marketable fighter either. Cyborg Santos and Miesha Tate have both made an impact in the MMA community as a whole; with Olympic medalists Ronda Rousey and Sara McMann in the wings.


Carano (left) & Cyborg Santos (right)

4) No one wants to see a women’s fight, huh?

As a good friend of mine Kristen from Women’s MMA Round said, “If no one wanted to see a women get hit, ‘America’s Funniest Home Videos’ wouldn’t have been on for 22 years." Look at the ratings for women’s matches in the past two years. Carano verses Cyborg is the highest rated fight in Showtime’s history, gaining as much as 870,000 viewers during their match. As before stated, Carano’s two CBS matches were two of the top ten rated in the history of the sport.

It just doesn’t extend to Carano either. Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker admitted in an interview this past week that the Liz Carmouche verse Marloes Coenen fight had better segment ratings that the main event, which was Henderson verse Feijao. Sarah Kaufman did what few MMA fighters ever have; make the Sportscenter Top 10 plays of the week.

When the Strikeforce merger with Zuffa happened, the biggest question asked by all MMA websites was if they would eliminate the women’s division. If that doesn’t say the MMA world is supportive, I don’t know what does.


Frank Fertitta III, Dana White, and Lorenzo Fertitta

5) Who is really making the decisions here?

Dana White has went from "absolutely not" to “there isn’t enough depth” when talking about women’s MMA this year. Although White does make some major decisions for the UFC, it’s really several other people that have to make the decision. White only owns 9% of Zuffa, the UFC’s parent company; while the Fertitta brothers own 81% of the company. (Sheik Tahnoon of Abu Dhabi owns the last 10%.) It’s hard not to see profitability in the women’s division, and as businessmen, I don’t see the Fertittas missing an opportunity to make money off of it.

I agree with MMA reporter Mauro Ranallo when he stated that the Gina Carano match in June is important, because this will be the bench mark for Zuffa decision. Carano is going to draw huge numbers no doubt, but how she does in the cage after a long lay off is important. Will she still be a viable fighter to market?


Women’s MMA still has a two year run ahead of it before the words “merger” even come into context. Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker re-stated his commitment to women’s MMA, and with the amount of fighters in the amateur division, depth is not as issue if Strikeforce is absorbed. They have time to prove themselves, and more and more women are taking up MMA every week. It does fall in Zuffa’s hands ultimately, but two years is a long time for people to change their minds.

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There are 3 comments on this post. Join the discussion!

thruthetrees says:

The fact that the debate is still going proves to me that there is a viable market. If it was so one-sided as Dana and the naysayers try to protray, then the debate would die down. Instead, the clamoring gets louder and louder.

Thursday, April 21, 2011 at 3:09pm EDT

Sprawl_N_Brawl says:

The buzz on Women's MMA is definitely increasing, and it is up to us as fans to keep the pressure on the decision makers in the sport to promote and TELEVISE the girls bouts.

Free TV exposure will get us to the tipping point where the women's division will become self-sustaining, because both prospective fans and prospective fighters will see that it is a legitimate and honorable pursuit, and the ranks of both will grow quickly.

Simply posting messages of support in comments sections such as this one is a good way to let your voice be heard. A better, more direct approach is to leverage the so-called social media (Facebook, Twitter) to put your thoughts directly under the nose of the movers and shakers in MMA.

It only takes a minute to send off a tweet or FB comment, and I think that this is a minute very well spent. Go to http://open.salon.com/blog/sprawl_n_brawl for a list of Twitter usernames to send your thoughts to, and then just tweet away!

If we all sent just one or two messages a week to the various promoters, managers, journalists and anouncers whose opinions count in the sport, I bet we can make a difference. If not, at least we can say that we tried!

#EqualFights !!


Thursday, April 21, 2011 at 3:53pm EDT

thruthetrees says:

Great idea! I have spread the word via my networks and will work on some other channels i have available to me.

Friday, April 22, 2011 at 9:58am EDT

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