Dana White's once-resolute stance on females fighting in the UFC has, over the last six months or so, gradually begun to change.
Most of that—OK, nearly 100 percent of that—is due to the burgeoning popularity of Strikeforce bantamweight champion, Ronda Rousey. White has certainly been impressed with Rousey's rising profile in the mixed martial arts world, but he's also clearly become a fan of her fighting. Put simply, Rousey's dominance in the cage has caused White to take a step back and admit that women may indeed step foot in the Octagon at some point in the future.
Gina Carano's exit from the sport in 2009 cast a pall over the future of women's fighting. She was the lone female superstar, and there didn't seem to be any prospects who could pick up the mantle Carano dropped when she decided to start making movies. Rousey changed all of that and is now the single biggest star on the Strikeforce roster, male fighters included.
Kansas City-based Invicta Fighting Championships is helping to further the cause. The all-women's promotion—which is only available at the moment via Internet live streams—is building up a roster of talented female fighters with a reputation for exciting fights.
But they're also helping to bolster the Strikeforce roster with a talent-exchange deal. Former bantamweight champ Sarah Kaufman is heading to Invicta in October, and one of the best prospects on the Invicta roster is going the other way: Former Olympic wrestler Sara McMann will head to Zuffa-land to fight for Strikeforce.
“Since we established Invicta FC at the beginning of this year, our goal has been to produce the best possible match-ups between women mixed martial artists and, to achieve this, we sometimes need to import talent like Sarah Kaufman from elsewhere as well as to send talent like Sara McMann to a place like Strikeforce where there is a healthy amount of championship level professional women’s MMA competition just like there is on our roster,” said Invicta FC President Shannon Knapp in a press release.
McMann, a silver medalist at the 2004 Olympics, poses an interesting threat to Rousey's reign, at least from a technical perspective. Both women are Olympic medalists, with Rousey medaling in Judo at the 2008 games. One could say that McMann's wrestling skills are on par with Rousey's judo skills, and that could make for a supremely interesting matchup for the reigning women's bantamweight champion.
We've seen Rousey compete against wrestlers in the past—Meisha Tate is the most notable example—and she's had no problems against the style thus far. But it's no great secret that Tate's wrestling game pales in comparison to the kind of skill McMann brings to the table.
Rousey is in a difficult place. There aren't many females left in the division who present much of a problem for her in the cage, and there is only one other opponent that fans are desperate to see her face. But with Cristiane "Cyborg" Justino refusing to drop down to 135 pounds for a fight with Rousey—and the champion refusing to move up in weight—there aren't many options available.
McMann could be that option. Her skills and athletic pedigree could vault her into a title shot against Rousey with just one emphatic win in Strikeforce. It may not be the most marketable fight in the world, but it would be a tough test for Rousey. And at this point, I wouldn't mind seeing it happen.