Claudia Gadelha stood on one side of the Octagon, Tina Lahdemaki on the other. UFC play-by-play man Jon Anik welcomed viewers watching on Fight Pass to "beautiful Atlantic City,” which seemed like a joke on Anik by the folks in the production truck attempting to see if Anik, Ron Burgundy-style, would say whatever they threw up on a teleprompter.
Why the first women’s strawweight fight in UFC history was on Fight Pass is perhaps a debate for a different day. What was not debatable was that Gadelha and Lahdemaki kicked off an entire division—one that will not begin in earnest until the landmark 20th season of The Ultimate Fighter concludes with a bout to crown its first champion in December—in a style befitting a promotion whose biggest attraction is a woman.
We do not yet know who will become the Ronda Rousey of the strawweight division. Perhaps no one will, though it is a division long in talent and intrigue.
There is Carla Esparza, the former Invicta strawweight champion who is the odds-on favorite to wade through the competition in the house and earn a berth in the finals. There is Felice Herrig, who by all accounts has taken her very public act into the house where, if rumors are to be believed, she has quickly become the least popular woman in the division.
There are the long shots with big personalities—“Thug” Rose Namajunas, the girlfriend of Pat Barry and a woman as full of character as anyone else on the UFC roster, and Justine Kish, who began her life doing chores on the frozen streets of Russia before being adopted by an American family who supported her later love for all things combat.
But first, there is Gadelha, who stepped in the Octagon on Wednesday night at 140 thickly muscled pounds.
She dominated early, which was to be expected. She was a heavy favorite going into the show, and her training with Jose Aldo and others at the famed Nova Uniao camp in Brazil gave her an edge just about everywhere the fight went.
But Lahdemaki endured. She lost the first round and most of the second, but then she started making something resembling a comeback.
“Lahdemaki began her career as a boxer,” Anik noted in the third round, and you could see she had the kind of mentality Dana White and others in the UFC board room likes to see: Down on the cards, she used her significant cardio to go for broke. She did not succeed, as Gadelha took home a unanimous-decision win. But even in her first professional lost, Lahdemaki gained ground.
Gadelha and Lahdemaki are two women alone, for now. The strawweight division will be filled, slowly at first and then all at once when The Ultimate Fighter concludes. They’ll find others to fight, and they’ll find their own ways.
But as a prequel to the installation of an entire division, you couldn’t ask for much more than Gadelha and Lahdemaki gave you. Even if it was buried on Fight Pass.
All quotes were obtained firsthand.