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Ronda Rousey: Women's MMA 'plummeted' during 'Cyborg' Justino's era

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Esther Lin

LOS ANGELES -- Women's mixed martial arts had its first wave of popularity in the late ‘00s, as Gina Carano became the standard-bearer for the fledgling sport.

Then there was a lull for a few years after Carano left for the safer confines of Hollywood, before Ronda Rousey emerged and brought women's fighting into the mainstream.

So what about that period in between? Rousey, who defends her title against Cat Zingano on Saturday night in UFC 184's main event at Staples Center, pins the WMMA's downtime to one fighter: Would-be rival Cris "Cyborg" Justino.

"It plummeted," Rousey said at the UFC 184 media day. "I mean, the plummet had a lot to do with Cyborg herself. But we have brought it past that, despite her."

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For years, the legendary 2009 bout between Carano and Justino was held up as the high-water mark in women's mixed martial arts. "Cyborg's" first-round finish of Carano drew a crowd of 13,976 to San Jose's HP Pavilion, and the peak audience of 856,000 for the main event was at the time a Showtime record for MMA. Carano has never fought since; while Cyborg held the Strikeforce women's featherweight title for the next several years.

For her part, Rousey several events in the current era of women's MMA has surpassed the high-water mark of the Carano era, from UFC 157, which was headlined by Rousey vs. Liz Carmouche; to UFC 168, in which the Rousey-Miesha Tate rematch was a strong part of a monster buy rate in the co-main event spot in Las Vegas.

"I feel the last several fights have been bigger than that one [Carano-Cyborg]," Rousey said. "It's because the sport itself has, the attention women are getting is just escalating over time. At that point, it was the peak. But we keep taking it farther and farther and farther."