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This coming week will take WMMA to greater heights

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Esther Lin, Invicta FC

The first woman of UFC Fight Pass is of course Pat Lundvall, the monotone star of all those Nevada Athletic Commission hearings. Because she can turn the courtroom into an ice palace, intimidating such brute forces as Vitor Belfort and Wanderlei Silva (who’s become a shadow puppet on Nevada’s regulatory walls), Lundvall is tailor-made for great digital streams.

But as of tonight and into next week, as the dust clears from Friday’s dueling Bellator-UFC shows on Connecticut reservations, the entire galaxy of fighting women will burst onto the scene practically all at once.

Invicta FC 8 will go off this weekend from Kansas City with a headlining bout between atomweight champion Michelle Waterson and Japanese challenger Yasuko Tamada, and it’ll become the first of Invicta’s events to stream live on the UFC’s Fight Pass. Four days later, on Sept. 10, the crop of strawweights that Invicta harvested and shipped to the UFC will be on display during the first airing of The Ultimate Fighter 20. The winner of that season becomes the inaugural 115-pound champion.

WMMA is expanding at a more alarming rate than China’s deserts.

And in the space of the next few days, women’s MMA as a whole, will truly, finally take center stage in the UFC, on the UFC, and around the UFC. That seems significant given that Dana White wasn’t all that interested in it just a couple of years ago. White’s original concern with women’s MMA was the lack of divisional depth, which at the time was a reddish enough flag. But there were other grumblings. There were those among the key demographic of 18-34 year males that just didn’t dig the idea of two women throwing down. It was too…novel?...threatening?...unlady-like? Something.

This was all Before Ronda.

Ronda Rousey, the UFC bantamweight champion, was the galvanizing figure. Before her there was Gina Carano and Cristiane Santos. Before them there were pioneers like Shayna Baszler, Tara La Rosa, Roxanne Modafferi and the great, inimitable Jennifer Howe, who smoked like Ricardo Mayorga and smashed faces like a thing without conscience.

It’s been one hell of a hike for women’s MMA to reach the point it’s at in 2014. Even if Floyd Mayweather has "never heard of him," Ronda was the one who did away with stigmas, and to convince the UFC that she was star enough to carry a division. But it’s more than just that. These days in his media scrums White insists that Rousey can beat up any man she comes into contact with, and for once this doesn’t feel like hyperbole. Rousey does have a Mike Tyson quality in that she checks ruth at the cage door and essentially savages her opponents.

That sort of thing translates well.

But Rousey no longer has to be the pantheon unto herself. The reserves are coming through Invicta FC and the new strawweight class on TUF, and the idea, at least in the abstract, is to find the next Ronda Rousey. And fighters like "The Karate Hottie" Michelle Waterson doesn’t mind a bit when her name is associated with Rousey’s.

"I think it’s cool," Waterson says. "Ronda’s a beast, and she’s where she’s at right now because of all the hard work she’s put in all her life. I’d like to be able to represent women’s martial arts in the same aspect. I’ve been a martial artist since I was 10 years old, so now if we can rock it and show everybody how we do it, it’ll be great."

Now is the time, and it’s a colorful bouquet of names. Waterson is the smallest wunderkind at Greg Jackson’s in Albuquerque, training alongside boxer Holly Holm and (when she’s not in Kansas City) Invicta matchmaker Julie Kedzie. Also appearing on Invicta FC 8 will be Tonya Evinger against the league leader in vowels, Katja Kankaanpaa, for the Invicta strawweight title, as well as a rematch between La Rosa and Modafferi, two of the original originals.

It’s still a relatively small party, but WMMA is growing exponentially. And in the next week, the UFC’s strawweight division will become familiar and Invicta, the organization that made this season of TUF possible, will be hubbed on UFC’s Fight Pass. It’s taken a long time for these things to come together so quickly.

"I love it," Waterson says. "The UFC is the place to be if you’re talking about MMA. Some people don’t know what MMA is, but they know what the UFC is. It’s great to be partnered up with the UFC. It’s like a big brother looking over."