In a sold-out arena last month, women’s sports history was made as two women competed for a martial arts title in a fighting octagon where no woman had ever fought before.
The Feb. 23 Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) promotion event, held in Anaheim at the Honda Center, marked the first time in history that female fighters competed in an Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) arena.
As the world’s premier mixed martial arts company, the UFC seeks to identify the most effective martial art by sponsoring fighters and hosting competitive events pitting martial artists of different disciplines against one another.
At the event, the fighters, champion Ronda Rousey, a California native, and contender Liz Carmouche, whose faces were at the head of the event’s promotional posters, battled it out for the newly created title of UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion.
Watching Rousey v. Carmouche was “a great experience” for Mills College student Jennifer Luna, a lifetime participant of mixed martial arts who viewed the fight as a testament to the strength of female fighters.
“All that was going through my mind was, ‘Yeah! You destroy, girl!’” Luna said. “Usually people think of women fights as weak or quick, but they fought hard and well.”
At the end of the match, slated as the pay-per-view event’s main draw, Rousey submitted Carmouche to retain the first women’s UFC title. As UFC president Dana White presented Rousey with her championship belt, the match announcer addressed Rousey and declared,“You are not just the first UFC women’s champion, you are a real representative of women’s athletics.”
White has historically been resistant to the inclusion of female fighters in the UFC, stating in a 2011 TMZ interview that he would “never allow” women to compete in his company. In a Fuel TV interview following Rousey v. Carmouche, White explained his change of heart.
“I wasn’t into [female UFC fighters] for a few years, then I started to do my homework, and as a I meet more of these girls I’m more and more impressed,” White said.
After a slight pause, White edited his statement, “As I meet these women, I’m more and more impressed. I’m pumped man, I’m happy about it.”
In the same Fuel TV interview, White pronounced the fight “one of the biggest moments in all of sports,” and expressed pleasure at the amount of media attention generated by the fight.
“I’ve never in the history of this company had so much media attention,” he said. “Tonight was a monumental night.”
Although female MMA fighters have competed professionally for other martial arts companies, Rousey v. Carmouche marked the first time women had fought for the UFC, which was established two decades ago.
The inclusion of female fighters in the UFC held special significance to Luna, who said she experienced some discrimination participating in a male-dominated sport.
“I was seen as this tiny timid girl, until I began fighting that is,” Luna said. “Many men were intimidated afterwards because they did not like losing to me, losing their pride.”
Luna viewed the fight as historic because it provides female fighters with the support and recognition that is often lacking.
“Women are more often than not told they cannot physically keep up with men in extreme sports like MMA,” she said. “When women show they can not only keep up with training, but excel, people pay attention and begin to support women fighters.”
The newly minted women’s 135-pound bantamweight division is already filling up, with four new fighters coming under UFC contract in the days following Rousey v. Carmouche.
In a televised Fuel TV interview after Rousey’s win, fellow MMA fighters Miesha Tate and Cat Zingano, now also UFC Women’s Bantamweight fighters and the next two women in line for the title, applauded the event’s historical significance.
“It was a very satisfying moment in history, seeing women get in the UFC octagon for the first time,” Tate said.
“It’s impressive because it’s the first female fight in the UFC,” she said.
The triumphant Rousey, a lifetime athlete who in 2008 became the first American woman to earn an Olympic medal in Judo, is relatively new to the MMA scene. Rousey, whose ascendant MMA career began in 2010, had just nine words to say immediately after her historic victory.
“Is this real life right now? I’m not sure!”