If anyone thought that UFC’s decision to create a women’s division would put to rest any question of WMMA’s viability as a business venture, they would be well advised to reassess that position.
If anything, UFC’s sudden interest in the female side of the sport has raised even more questions.
What exactly are the expectations for their upcoming female division?
If you have listened to Dana White recently, you could be forgiven for thinking that they view the division as an experiment, rather than as a long-term commitment.
UFC's decision to restrict themselves to promoting a single weight class is a clear indication that they remain apprehensive.
Moreover, it is not entirely clear whether they are in the WMMA business or simply the Ronda Rousey business.
Indeed, Dana White’s answer to any question on the future of female MMA tends to be more focused on the future of Rousey. The fact that she is currently the only female fighter signed to a UFC contract is similarly telling.
Whether or not the UFC can actually sustain a women’s division boils down to a number of factors.
Firstly, and perhaps most important over the short term, Ronda Rousey has to deliver inside and outside the cage. That means she has to perform both athletically and commercially, otherwise I suspect the Zuffa brass will rapidly lose interest.
Why is this so important over the short term?
The focus will be on Rousey for the foreseeable future. If she continues to move the needle for the next year or so, it will give her competition time to develop.
The worst thing UFC could do right now is throw Rousey into a fight with Sara McMann. Booking that particular contest would be flirting with disaster.
McMann recently made the astute observation that a potential fight with her fellow Olympic medallist would be a waste of everyone’s time at present (via MMAmania.com):
But, from what I understand, there needs to be a proper build-up to a fight like that. People don't really know me that well. They know her. So, it just doesn't make sense, really, to have it without a strong following for me, too.
It’s fair to say that Rousey vs. McMann could conceivably headline a UFC pay-per-view event a year from now, assuming the latter receives the kind of promotion her talent deserves.
Over the long term, the most important factor in the sustainability of the UFC’s female division is the development of talent.
I have long said that Invicta FC is an invaluable developmental tool for women’s MMA, and that Zuffa should seriously consider either purchasing the fledgling promotion or striking a deal to use them as a feeder organisation—the MMA equivalent of Ohio Valley Wrestling, if you will.
A division boasting the likes of Ronda Rousey, Sara McMann, Miesha Tate, Sarah Kaufman, Shayna Baszler and Marloes Coenen will be self-sufficient for a while—you can add Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos to the list once she stops pretending that 135 pounds is beyond her reach.
Unfortunately, the drop off in talent is fairly pronounced once you look past the top of the division.
Such a top-heavy weight class will only sustain itself for so long, which is why it is imperative that UFC find a way to develop talent to not only support the existing division, but also to add new ones.
Of course, most of the above is moot if UFC’s interest in WMMA does not extend beyond the career prospects of Rousey.
We can only hope that Zuffa has a broader vision for female mixed martial arts than the current rhetoric would lead one to believe.