Whether it’s due to the absorption of other mixed material arts leagues, the expansion of weight divisions or the huge broadcasting contract with Fox Sports Media, the Ultimate Fighting Championship is building a brand while shedding its old image.
On Saturday Feb. 23, the organization took a historic step forward when bantamweights Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche fought in the UFC’s first female fight. While the fight itself was forgettable, with Rousey winning via submission in the first round, the event was groundbreaking.
By incorporating female fighters and further expanding its market, the UFC is educating the world about mixed material arts and supporting the role of women in sports.
Since its inception in 1993, the UFC has often been dismissed as too violent. The championship and Dana White, its president, work hard to shake this stigma, while taking every opportunity to expand UFC’s reach and adapt its product.
Common folk and some casual fans perceive the UFC as barbaric and savage. While these titles were once appropriate, this is no longer the case. The sport has evolved into a physical chess match that requires an immense amount of skill, strength and mental fortitude.
The organization used to promote its fighters as gladiators, but now portrays them as the best, hardest working athletes in the world.
The age of the brawlers who mindlessly throw punches is over and fighters who seamlessly blend striking with grappling techniques have since replaced those brawlers. The only successful athletes in the UFC today are well-rounded fighters, and those are the only fighters that White wants.
Why, then, add women to the mix? White truly loves the sport of mixed martial arts and wants to show fans the full range of its capabilities. He wants the fans to see how different fighters create different products.
Let me be clear, this is not a gimmick – White is not trying to make the UFC “sexy” or add pretty faces to the organization. These women can fight and often highlight the amount of versatility that a mixed martial artist needs. Rarely will you see a female fighter who blindly throws punches. These fighters are frequently more calculating and strategic than their male counterparts.
It is hard to determine if this inclusion is a bigger step for the UFC as an organization or for women in sports. As long as sports have served as entertainment, females have fought a losing battle for gender equality and have struggled to gain a foothold in the sporting world.
This does not only include athletes, but also female coaches, reporters, referees and management. The introduction of Title IX in 1972 helped reduce some of this inequality on the amateur level, but professional female sports are still miles behind professional male sports. Since its creation in 1996, the WNBA has been a financial nightmare and is considered a laughingstock in professional sports. The LPGA is plagued with an image issue and, in an attempt to make its players more marketable, denies golfers from its tour if they are not proficient in English.
It has become evident that there is little demand for all-female leagues; however, females garner attention by making their way into male-dominated arenas. By having Rousey and Carmouche fight on a card that also features big ticket male fighters, fans will tune in to see the male names they know, but will also watch the females fight. This provides the females a rare opportunity to showcase their skills to a wide audience.
A similar situation is unfolding in NASCAR with Danica Patrick. I have a hard time believing there would be high demand for an all-female stock car organization, but as Patrick makes a name for herself in the men’s club of NASCAR, she exposes a huge fan base to female athletes and blazes the trail for future female racers.
The UFC and White have never been afraid of being pioneers. They understand the importance of change and originality. The Feb. 23 fight’s importance echoes further than the arena where it took place. The UFC is here to stay and it is bringing women with it.