UFC president Dana White has long felt that women's MMA could draw public interest for one or two big fights a year, but there simply weren't enough talented women competing in the sport to build divisions around. And while UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta recently told MMAFighting.com that he agrees with White to a certain degree, his outlook on the future of women's MMA appears to be a whole lot more optimistic.
"I've never been against it," Fertitta said. "You know, me and Dana, although we always go on a common front, we don't always agree on everything. The reality is, I'm a fan. I was captivated by the [Ronda Rousey vs. Miesha Tate] fight. [I was] blown away by their athleticism and the way they promoted the fight, the whole thing. To me, it was very, very entertaining.
"Dana is right. Historically there has been an issue with the depth of talent in the talent pool, but it seems to me like that is starting to change and the one argument I make when we talk about it, and this might sound a little self-serving, but we've never been in the women's game, so we've never had our matchmakers do this. Let Joe Silva and Sean Shelby develop a women's league. I guarantee you they can do it. They're that good."
Zuffa, the parent company of the UFC and Strikeforce, has only seriously been in the women's MMA business for the last few months. Sure, Zuffa bought Strikeforce exactly one year ago, but matchmaker Sean Shelby only had full control of the organization and its fights beginning with the organization's September show in Cincinnati, OH. Since then, there have only been four major Strikeforce shows, and interestingly enough, one featured a women's MMA co-main event (Cyborg vs. Yamanaka in December) and another featured a women's MMA main event (Tate vs. Rousey), only the second in Strikeforce's history.
More to Fertitta's point, Shelby, who used to book WEC and is now in charge of the UFC's 125, 135 and 145 divisions, is responsible for signing Rousey and top contender Alexis Davis, so it's clear that he already has a strong eye for women's MMA talent.
According to unconfirmed reports, the Tate vs. Rousey title fight drew approximately 500,000 viewers on Showtime and it may one day be seen as a watershed moment for the sport. After dominating the MMA news cycle for almost two weeks leading up to the fight, both Tate and Rousey are still very much in the headlines 10 days later.
It's clear that women's MMA has found a new "face" in Rousey, a crown once worn by Gina Carano, perhaps somewhat unwillingly, and Fertitta is one of the many observers who thinks "Rowdy" can be a torchbearer of sorts for the ladies.
"I think she has a tremendous amount of potential," he said. "She's got a great personality. She's got the ability to grab the public's attention, how she talks, and then she goes in there and backs it up. I mean, it's almost like Ali when he would go in there and call out the round. It's that kind of aura about her. I'm really positive on her and Miesha. I was very impressed. I'm happy for them."
When Zuffa purchased Strikeforce last year, a lot of women's MMA fighters and fans were afraid that the acquisition would signal a major blow to their place in the sport. However, one could make a strong case today that women's MMA has never been healthier, and according to Fertitta, things are only going to get better.
"I think that there's enough great athletes out there and when you see the stature, the celebrity, the money that these girls are now starting to make, I think you're going to see more women rise to the occasion and want to become professional athletes and compete. So I'm kind of positive on the whole thing."