The day has finally come. After teasing fans for months, the UFC has finally pulled the trigger on Ronda Rousey's move to the UFC. TMZ broke the news that Rousey, and presumably a well known opponent to be named later, will be the first two women to compete inside the hallowed ground of the UFC Octagon.
For fans of women's MMA, and the women who compete at the highest level, it's news that should be greeted with cautious optimism. The UFC, without a doubt, is the big time. And for Rousey and a select few others, the move will end up being a huge upgrade in potential eyeballs, attention and sponsorships.
What it will mean for women fighters generally is an open question. UFC President Dana White has always criticized the lack of depth in even the most well established female divisions. Is it his plan to help build them, making women's MMA a continuing staple of UFC broadcasts?
Or, as some in the industry fear, is White simply cherry picking Rousey and removing just a handful of women fighters and leaving the rest of the sport to fend for themselves?
Whether or not the UFC adds a women's bantamweight division to their regular roster, taking on the challenge of establishing another new batch of fighters in addition to the newly minted flyweight division, Rousey was a risk worth taking. Few fighters, regardless of gender, have ever combined her athletic credentials, gift of gab and good looks.
Rousey is the total package and her potential as a box office draw made this a move the UFC couldn't resist. She has drawn solid crowds on Showtime for fights with Miesha Tate and Sarah Kaufman and the mainstream media continues to fall in love with her. With the UFC's marketing muscle, who knows what might be possible?
At this point, pay-per-view is uncharted territory for women in combat sports. While Laila Ali and Jacqui Frazier topped 125,000 buys for a boxing bout back in 2001, that was a fight with decades of history and two famous fathers lurking in the background. Rousey will likely be the first female fighter to attempt in earnest to conquer that market.
Many questions remain.
Will the UFC use The Ultimate Fighter to both promote Rousey's first UFC bout and establish new female stars?
What happens if Rousey loses a fight, especially in devastating fashion?
If her personal brand continues to grow, will Rousey go the route of her predecessor Gina Carano who left MMA in her prime for a career in the movies?
So much is up in the air, but one thing is certain—2013 will be the most important year in the history of women's MMA and Ronda Rousey will be at the center of the storm.
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