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Supergirly

Here’s How the UFC’s First Female MMA Fight Went, and Why It’s Been a Long Time Coming


This weekend wasn’t just the Oscars, it was also the first Ultimate Fighting Championship bout to feature two signed female MMA fighters. We’ve reported a bit on the progress of women in the mixed martial arts community to get the kind of billing their male peers get, but last week long-time MMA fan AshleyRose Sullivan offered to cover the fight for us and explain its milestone status.

On February 23rd, as Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche entered the ring at the sold-out The Honda Center in Anaheim, California, for UFC 157, Joe Rogan announced (over the sound of thousands of screaming fans) that, “This is a gigantic cultural moment!” He was right.

If you haven’t followed mixed martial arts, you might not know about the struggle women have had gaining notoriety in the sport.  In spite of the occasional women’s MMA match in Japan in the 90’s and the introduction of women to smaller promotions like Strikeforce, EliteXC, and Bellator, (where, at first, women were made to fight shorter, two-minute rounds rather than the customary five) it seemed like the UFC, the most prominent MMA promotion in the world, would never get around to signing female fighters. UFC President, Dana White, even said, “Women will never fight in the UFC.” But, that all changed when Ronda Rousey hit the scene.

Rousey’s history as a fighter began in the sport of Judo. When she not only made it to the Beijing Olympics, but became the first American woman to medal in Judo, Rousey cemented her status as a serious athlete. Then, when she returned to the States, she found there weren’t many career opportunities for women who had dedicated their lives to throwing people down really good. She took a job as a bartender and waitress in Los Angeles.

Eventually, she discovered and started training in mixed martial arts. Rousey won her first three amateur fights in the first round, by armbar. She then signed with Tuff-N-Uff where she won her next two fight in the first round, by armbar. Then came her first professional fight, with King of the Cage, where she submitted Ediane Gomes in the first round, by armbar. If you see a pattern developing here, you aren’t the only one. Rousey’s consecutive first-round, armbar submissions were becoming the talk of the MMA town. When she signed with Strikeforce, her first big promotion, everyone wondered whether she could do it again. She did. She defeated Sara D’Alelio, took the belt from Meischa Tate, and defended it against Sara Kaufman all with first-round armbar submissions. Finally, Dana White was taking notice. In November 2012, Rousey was officially signed to the UFC. Now she just needed someone to fight.

That job fell to Liz Carmouche—reportedly the only woman willing to take the championship fight with Rousey. Carmouche, a former marine who served three tours of duty in the Middle East, not only has the distinction of participating in the first ever women’s UFC fight, she’s also the first openly gay UFC fighter.

Carmouche didn’t finish her stint in the marines until three years after the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and said that, “I constantly had to look over my shoulder, always wondering if someone was going to try and out me.” And, while her time in the military was difficult, she credits the experience with giving her the strength and mental toughness she has today. Both of those traits would be utilized in her fight with Ronda Rousey.

The buildup to any fight is intense, with constant training and dieting to make weight, but this fight had the added pressure of unprecedented media attention. Many had wondered whether UFC President, Dana White, would expend the same resources promoting UFC 157 and its first female fighters as it had other title fights. As it turned out, we saw as much or more of Rousey and Carmouche as any other big-name fighter before Saturday night. Even after UFC-sponsored promotion activities started, larger outlets like Time Magazine, and HBO were suddenly featuring the story. These women were inundated with interviews and visits from camera crews.

On Saturday night, both women entered the Octagon for a five-round, championship battle. Almost immediately, Carmouche had Rousey in trouble. A rear-naked choke turned into an ugly neck crank. It looked as though Rousey’s run as champion might come to an end but Rousey toughed it out, escaped, and they went to the ground. With only eleven seconds left in the first round, Rousey maneuvered Carmouche into an armbar and ended the fight—retaining her Bantamweight belt and her streak of consecutive first round armbar submissions.

The fight was fast-paced, technical, and had the sold-out arena on their feet. (I was also on my feet—in my living room.) It seemed as though Rousey and Carmouche had ushered in a new era of women’s mixed martial arts—one where they would finally be taken seriously as athletes and competitors. Dana White, who has always been concerned with whether or not there were enough female fighters or public interest to constitute a women’s division said, “This is, without a doubt, the most media attention we’ve ever had leading up to a fight,” and afterward came the announcement that White had signed ten female fighters to the UFC with five more on the way.

It looks like, thanks to Rousey and Carmouche, women have finally arrived in the UFC and they’re here to stay.

AshleyRose Sullivan hasn’t missed a major MMA event since 2006. In addition to following badass women in sports, she’s also a writer and full time geek. She’s watching all of Star Trek in a year and chronicling the adventure on her blog, My Year Of Star Trek.

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  • Anonymous

    I’m not a fight fan at all. I have nothing against it it’s just not something that appeals to me. I think it has to do with the fact that I’ve witnessed enough abuse in various situations that I don’t take pleasure in watching people beat each other for sport. It’s really a turn off to me.
    All that said, it’s fantastic to see women getting the same opportunities as men in this regard and I commend these women for achieving this goal. MMA doesn’t have to appeal to me personally for me to think it’s a great achievement in equality.

  • Anonymous

    I’m really psyched about this whole development. Thanks for the writeup! And Rousey is amazing.

  • http://www.aeryllou.tumblr.com/ Aeryl

    I was very excited by the announcement that Rousey was gonna go UFC and I am glad it’s getting the attention its getting, because this is awesome. I personally like the women’s fights on Strike Force better than the men’s, the women seem like they are more willing to mix it up(i.e. the opening seconds of this fight) whereas the men tend to dance around a lot more.

    Now there’s talk that White is looking to sign Carano(who hasn’t had a fight in 4 years, so I don’t know if she’d want to come back, but still).

    I am so glad that Carmouche held out as long as she did, as much as I like Rousey I was also holding out for Carmouche to win, because she needs a car(a pain I can sympathize with). Now that White has signed more fighters, this will hopefully mean more money to the fighters to actually make a career from this.

  • http://twitter.com/sarasakana Sara Sakana

    Can I just say how refreshing it is to see an article about women competing in a predominantly male sport that DOESN’T contain any “but don’t worry, they’re still girls, here’s a whole paragraph about how much they love shopping/cooking/doing their nails” nonsense? THANK YOU. ♥

  • http://twitter.com/AngryHayley Her Majesty’s Wombat

    I love that you guys offered a perspective on this – I kept hearing buzz about it but wasn’t sure what made it so special (as opposed to other female matches). Thanks for explaining!

  • Amanda W

    I would much rather watch this than the women on WWE. *cringe*

  • http://twitter.com/MelissiaKuromoi Melissia

    A billion times this. The women on WWE oftentimes don’t even qualify as wrestlers– they’re cheerleaders in spandex.

  • http://twitter.com/MelissiaKuromoi Melissia

    Wow, that fight was brutal. Many of the mens’ fights weren’t that exciting despite lasting longer.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dessa-Brewington/721495970 Dessa Brewington

    Wow. This article is really an inspi–*ARMBAR!!!*

  • http://www.facebook.com/jason.hunt.773981 Jason Hunt

    The only question that fight left me with was “why did Carmouche just lie there while Rousey adjusted her bra and shorts?” The fight could have gone much longer but for that piece of stupidity.

  • http://twitter.com/AbelUndercity Abel Undercity

    I suspect that, while Carmouche was a game fighter deserving of a shot, the notion that she was the only one willing to face Rousey was the product of the UFC hype machine rather than actual fact. Fighters aren’t going to say: “A shot at the champion of the premiere promotion on pay-per-view? Nah, I’ve got a dentist appointment.”

  • http://twitter.com/adventure_chick Tasha Gray

    I was so excited to watch this fight for so many reasons! I think it’s great there will be a women’s division because, until now, women who trained in MMA could only go so far in their ‘hobby’. Now, they know, if they’re good enough, they can get just as high as the men can! I seriously am looking forward to the women fighters we have now and those who will be encouraged to come out to get their chance at a professional fight in the octagon!

  • http://twitter.com/adventure_chick Tasha Gray

    I’m sure the amount that Carmouche made off of that fight and upcoming endorsements will more than meet her needs! I was actually holding out for Carmouche b/c she came in as the underdog and I’m a sucker for them! It was a terrific match either way!

  • http://twitter.com/adventure_chick Tasha Gray

    I read your comment while in my classroom and nearly burst out laughing. I don’t think the teacher is allowed to disrupt class!

  • http://twitter.com/adventure_chick Tasha Gray

    I think they felt a great deal of pressure to really put on a show and give it their all. There will NEVER be another ‘first women’s UFC match’ and I believe this will always be the hardest fight of their career. They truly did leave it all out there and put on a terrific display of ability.

  • http://twitter.com/adventure_chick Tasha Gray

    I agree it was probably a great deal of hype too. However, it could have been straight nerves for some of them. To be the ‘first’ is a big thing. The others now won’t have that horrendous pressure and can come in from a bit lower and work up to a title shot.

  • http://www.aeryllou.tumblr.com/ Aeryl

    I think its a courtesy, cuz I’ve seen many fighters(mostly women) have to adjust, and their opponents will usually give them a sec.

  • http://www.aeryllou.tumblr.com/ Aeryl

    My bf & I enjoy the women’s fights so much more than the mens. The men are too flashy and dance around to much. You never see them come out of their corners and start going at it, like Rousey and Carmouche did.

  • http://twitter.com/AliceDranger Alice Dranger

    OH my gosh, YES! I didn’t even realize how much I appreciated that till I read your post. I add my thanks to the writer to yours.