The UFC took a momentous leap forward into women's mixed martial arts by officially making Ronda Rousey the promotion's first ever female champion.
UFC President Dana White awarded Rousey with the company's inaugural women's championship belt at the UFC on Fox 5 pre-fight press conference on Thursday. White also announced that "Rowdy" will make her Octagon debut opposite Liz Carmouche when the two headline February's UFC 157 in Anaheim, California.
As a long-time proponent of women's MMA, I have to say that I am quite impressed by the promotion's faith in Rousey and in other emerging female fighters.
Even before the Olympic bronze medalist judoka became the first women's UFC champ, White and company were already touting her as the biggest name in WMMA.
I have to give the promotion props for laying the groundwork so that Rousey and other female fighters could smoothly transition into the big show.
The company has shown a more enlightened view towards female fighters (and female athletes in general) that other sports should look to emulate. You'd be hard-pressed to find another major sport that actively integrates women into the fold, let alone one that would give a female athlete top-billing.
However, no amount of altruism can overshadow the fact that there's money to be made by having a women's division. But by the UFC saying that female fighters are just as marketable as male fighters, the promotion is basically leading the way for gender equality in major sports.
Rather than separating the sexes by relegating women to an entirely different entity, like the NBA does with the WNBA, the UFC has proven that a synergy between the genders has to occur in order to raise the popularity of female athletes. Women could certainly carry a promotion on their own, like Invicta FC, for example, but in order for female fighters to gain mainstream acceptance, they have to be cross-promoted with male fighters.
What's brilliant about the UFC's strategy is that, along with cross-promotion, the company is also immediately putting the women's division to the test by having Rousey versus Carmouche headline a major pay-per-view event as the inaugural women's UFC bout. This move will instantly garner the division a ton of interest and could possibly help to win over fans skeptical of WMMA.
The UFC's integration of new divisions, such as the lighter weight classes, hasn't always gone smoothly, mostly due to marketing failures.
When the promotion announced the addition of the bantamweight and featherweight divisions during the UFC-WEC merger, there was very little marketing done to hype the new additions. While the likes of Jose Aldo and Dominick Cruz gained some attention as their WEC titles transformed into UFC gold, the rest of the division received little hype.
Quietly, the new weight classes made their debuts as part of the non-televised preliminary card at The Ultimate Fighter 12 finale back in December 2010. If it wasn't for a botched decision during a main card bout later that night between Leonard Garcia and Nam Phan (the second featherweight fight in UFC history), the new weight classes probably wouldn't have received more than just a passing mention by MMA pundits.
Even with the addition of the flyweight division during this year's four-man tournament, the UFC still hasn't done that great of a job of hyping its lighter weight classes.
Luckily, the UFC has learned from its past mistakes.
The promotion is putting Rousey and the women's division at the forefront of fans minds through constant exposure. When these two women enter the Octagon for their pay-per-view-headlining fight at UFC 157 next year, rest assured that the UFC will go hard on marketing.
Not only is the UFC leading the way for female fighters, but it's also helping the entire sports world take a step forward by showing them that women and men can harmoniously compete under the same banner.
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