With the announcement yesterday that Miesha Tate and Cat Zingano had been booked to fight at the Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale on April 13, women’s MMA truly arrived in the UFC.
Of course, the first-ever women’s UFC fight, between bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche, has long been scheduled to headline UFC 157 in Anaheim, California. And that fight will be a monumental moment, not only in the history of the UFC and MMA but in the history of sports. But the UFC booked that fight back in December, and until the promotion got around to booking a second women’s fight, the occasion remained just that – an occasion, a day to mark and promote, a single moment in time that many believed had more to do with the marketability and popularity of Rousey than it did with the promotion’s confidence in the long-term viability of women’s MMA. After all, UFC President Dana White had said many times that he couldn’t see women making it to the UFC, that there simply wasn’t enough talent to justify starting an entire women’s division. White even admitted that it was watching Rousey, both as a fighter and as a cultural sensation, that had convinced him to give it a shot.
So, while the announcement that Zingano and Tate (who lost her Strikeforce title belt to Rousey in the fight that sent Rousey’s name-recognition into the stratosphere and her face and body onto the cover of ESPN The Magazine – and Tate’s elbow into the most uncomfortable position you can imagine) will be the third and fourth women ever to step in the Octagon won’t have the same sort of cultural impact that the Rousey/Carmouche news did, in some ways it’s the more significant event. Because as long as the fate of women’s MMA was tied to the success of one woman, it was doomed to fail, and an entire roster of women’s fighters would be functioning in the worst kind of employment limbo. Yesterday’s announcement signaled that the UFC is standing behind women’s MMA as a phenomenon, not simply grabbing onto the coattails of one.
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