For what seems like forever, the UFC has been plagued with the worst luck. Last-minute injuries, cancelled cards, short-notice main events and the occasional Bentley-ruining DUI.
Saturday night, karma paid back Dana White, the UFC, and the sport of MMA in full.
The first ever women’s world title fight in UFC history could have been a disaster. There are literally a thousand ways it could have blown up in everybody’s face. Maybe one of the ladies can’t make the weight, casting doubt on the professionalism of WMMA from the get go. Or maybe it’s the fight itself that ends up disappointing, with the promise of an exciting finish replaced with a dull, 5 round snoozefest. Maybe it quickly becomes apparent that these ladies don’t have the skill of their male counterparts, and the whole thing descends into spectacle instead of sport.
It could have happened so easily. So easily. We could be sitting here the next day shaking our heads and sadly lementing the UFC’s failed experiment in women’s MMA.
That we’re not is a testament to Ronda Rousey, Liz Carmouche, and the faith the UFC had in both women.
It’s tough to imagine the fight playing out better than it did for the UFC. It started with the ring entrances, which is a part of the main event I love but that’s usually not all that important. When Liz entered to a healthy cheer, it became clear that the fans had embraced the former Marine as a legitimate fighter, not just a lamb being led to slaughter.
Then Ronda entered, and you could tell by the crowd reaction that all Dana’s talk about her being bigger than Brock Lesnar may not have been talk, after all. Combine that with Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation” and the look of intensity in Ronda’s eyes, and there was a special feeling in the air. It had the aura of a “big fight”, rather than a curiosity.
So far, so good.
Then the fight starts, and a wild exchange to start things off has me worried just a little bit. Then Ronda clinches, presses Carmouche against the cage, and takes her down. It was more of a schoolboy (or schoolgirl, I suppose) headlock takedown than the polished Judo we’re used to seeing from Rousey, but so what? At this point, I (and most folks, I’m guessing) think the fight’s about to be over. Ronda’s last fight didn’t even make it 60 seconds once the action hit the mat.
Then the impossible happened: after a scramble, Carmouche somehow had taken Rousey’s back. And was working to sink a choke in. As Rousey stood, her head cranked at a grotesque angle, fighting to get an angry U.S. Marine off her back (and, we’d later learn, to keep her top from falling off) I think just about everyone watching was holding their breath.
Eventually Ronda escaped the danger, dumped Carmouche to the mat, and methodically worked towards the armbar finish with just seconds left in the opening round.
If that fight I just described took place between two guys on the undercard, it would have been a fun but otherwise unmemorable fight. But in the first ever women’s UFC fight in history, it was exactly what the doctor ordered ro get WMMA “over”.
Think about it: if Rousey had stormed out of the gate and steamrolled Carmouche with ease, people would start thinking that no one in the division could seriously challenger her. The UFC would have to work twice as hard to sell her next fight, and the legitimacy of the division itself might have suffered. WMMA has to be more than just “The Ronda Rousey Show” to survive long-term.
If Carmouche had finished that choke and beaten Rousey, the UFC would have lost it’s golden goose.
Instead, we got a fight that provided drama and excitement, as well as the inevitable armbar finish we were all expecting. We got to see Rousey in a moment of danger, and we got to see her fight her way out. We got to see the skills of Liz Carmouche, so this fight didn’t end up being a squash match. In the end, we got he finish we were all expecting – just not the fight we were all expecting.
But most importantly, we got a fight.
In the lead up to UFC 157, a lot of casual fans I talked to were excited to watch the “UFC cat fight”. This had every chance to turn into a spectacle – two scantily clad women groping each other in a steel cage.
But none of those fans who were excited for a cat fight came away thinking that’s what they watched Saturday night. Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche put on a display of skill to equal anything in the men’s divisions. Hyperbole? Maybe, but in a world where Bob Sapp still headlines MMA carda and Kimbo Slice was once a top draw, I think it’s more of a backhanded compliment at this point.
These weren’t two women pretending to do MMA – these were two highly skilled martial artists. And you better believe everyone watching knew it by the time the fight was over.
It worked out doubly-good for the UFC, because not only did Rousey emerge as a bigger star than before, but so did Liz Carmouche. She put Ronda in more danger than we’ve ever seen her in, and has nothing to be ashamed of in defeat. Her easygoing personality and military background are clearly a hit with fans, and I think she’s going to have a bright future in the UFC.
The bottom line is that women’s MMA has arrived in the UFC exactly as it needed to. Like the Bonnar/Griffin Ultimate Fighter finale, or the dramatic finish of Chael Sonnen vs. Anderson Silva I, sometimes things have a way of working out for the UFC in ways they could never have anticipated. Last night was one such moment, and it was absolutely magical to watch.
The future for women in the UFC is looking very bright indeed – and I can’t wait to see what happens next.