Women's MMA has has an even shorter history than men's MMA but what it lacks in length it makes up in ferocity; female fighters are often tenacious, have the most heart and usually provide the most exciting matches on the card.
Despite these attributes, women's MMA finds itself in an interesting quandary in mid-2011.
The UFC—an organization known to have a hard stance against women's MMA (abbreviated as WMMA)—has recently purchased Strikeforce, the organization with the single largest concentration of female MMA talent in the world. (this issue and others are discussed at length in a piece by fellow Bleacher Report member Brian Barker).
WMMA is threatened but at the same time seemingly approaching a new renaissance, Strikeforce continues to promote it, a women's MMA fight conference/summit in which many female fighters will meet and train is to be held soon and the MMA world awaits the Strikeforce Women's Welterweight Championship fight between champion Marloes Coenen and challenger Miesha Tate with great interest.
It is the last item on the list that is the most intriguing, the title fight between Tate and Coenen. To the short-sighted MMA fan, the fight just seems like business as usual but the truth of the matter is that the fight is far more important; the fight may help to determine the future of women's MMA!
The (unfortunate) truth of the matter is this: Like in any sport—and MMA is no exception (be it women's or men's)—there are certain athletes that are used as figure-heads or poster-boys. These are the people that fans instantly recognize and are used to either market or further the goals of their respective sport.
For example, look at UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, he helped/is helping bring MMA into the limelight by appearing on various commercials and being such a palatable superstar for the unwashed masses who don't know much about MMA.
The central figure in women's MMA since it came to the mainstream was Gina Carano. Her exciting fighting style as well as sex appeal (this is a considerable aspect of a female athlete's popularity, love it or hate it) helped to make her an instant star.
Carano was given a massive push throughout her stint with EliteXC and, when the organization folded, was given a title shot against Brazilian terror Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos. Carano came up short, took a hiatus from MMA to venture into acting, and tried to return but ultimately could not.
Although Carano vows to return soon, soon isn't good enough. She has been out of the picture since 2009 and her memory with fans known for their legendary fickleness may be beginning to fade.
This is where Tate vs. Coenen comes in.
Miesha Tate is the winner of Strikeforce's women tournament held last August. Winning this tournament earned her a title shot at Marloes Coenen, a feared Dutch submission fighter known for her arm bars.
Should Tate—an attractive women by anyone's standards—be victorious, it would be a huge boon to women's MMA.
First, and sadly, Strikeforce women's middleweight champion Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos isn't too popular and is brutalized by keyboard warriors (who couldn't last 30 seconds in the cage with her) for her looks. This is one of the most unfortunate circumstances in MMA; Cyborg is such a gifted and talented fighter but no one seems to care!
This sad truth would mean that, with a Tate victory, Strikeforce would finally have a female champion that it could turn into a powerful draw. Tate's looks and charisma would help bring new fans to WMMA and would aid them in realizing that women do belong in the cage.
Second, it would help to promote the wider women's mma world, meaning that fans would finally realize there is more than just the division that Gina Carano fights in.
This is all not to say that Gina Carano is gone forever and Miesha Tate will replace her. It's just that a Tate victory will do a lot for women's MMA; if Carano manages to return to form there will be two stars in women's MMA instead of just one.
Of course, women's MMA isn't limited to just two starts in the future. The aforementioned soon-to-take-place summit of female fighters is proof of the fact that the sport is growing amongst women. Perhaps one of the now unknown fighters there will be one of the the future faces of women's MMA?
So, is Miesha Tate the future of women's MMA if she defeats Marloes Coenen? Yes, Tate will enjoy a substantial rise in popularity and will likely become a star in WMMA on Gina Carano's level.
However, Tate will not always be the future of WMMA; with the growth of the sport will come new female fighters who will also become popular. Eventually, WMMA will end up with several figure-heads just like men's MMA. There will be a Gina Carano and a Miesha Tate for every Jon Jones and Georges St-Pierre.