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Crashing the Party

Five years after Ronda Rousey fought Liz Carmouche at UFC 157, women are thriving in the Octagon — so much so that you have to wonder how the UFC ever got along without them

Esther Lin

Some women fear the fire, some women become it” – Social media poet, r.h. Sin.

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So, the ladies.

On April 7, Rose Namajunas will defend the women’s strawweight title against the person she took it away from, Joanna Jedrzejczyk. It’s a big enough fight to be the co-main event of a major pay-per-view card in Brooklyn. It comes exactly a month and four days after Cris Cyborg defended the women’s featherweight title against Yana Kunitskaya as the headliner of UFC 222, and a month and five days before Amanda Nunes will defend her bantamweight title in a main event at UFC 224 against Raquel Pennington in Rio de Janeiro.

On the night Cyborg came to the rescue of UFC 222, Mackenzie Dern debuted to sparkling fanfare, and Ketlen Vieira turned herself into a contender against Cat Zingano. All of these women became the fire a long time ago.

And just five years after Ronda Rousey fought Liz Carmouche in the first-ever UFC women’s bout at UFC 157, there’s a four-billion dollar question that could be asked: Where would the UFC be without the women? With Conor McGregor currently on the lam from title obligations, and Jon Jones rolling into every battle flying bright red flags, and Brock Lesnar residing on the outskirts of normal rules of play, it’s a tough one to answer.

Or a very easy one. Without the women, the UFC would be fuuu

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Of course, let’s not forget.

Namajunas was at one point considered “the next Ronda Rousey,” four words that can make the skin crawl for anyone who watches MMA with any kind of regularity. Ronda Rousey was the one and only Ronda Rousey, and lightning won’t strike twice because it can’t. You can’t duplicate first, especially when first carried that kind of historical impact that brought everything else into existence. If Namajunas wins, she will remain the first Rose Namajunas. If she loses, Jedrzejczyk will re-emerge as Joanna Violence, or Joanna Champion — at any rate, the Polish firebrand with a verifiable mean streak.

Before Namajunas and Jedrzejczyk rematch that night in New York, Bec Rawlings will fight Ashlee Evans-Smith. And directly before the PPV goes live, in the culminative swing spot that is meant to generate enthusiasm to pull the trigger and order, FOX Sports 1 will air the bout before Karolina Kowalkiewicz and Felice Herrig. Those two will double as a sales pitch.

Women have only been competing in the UFC for a little over five years. They are everywhere. None of them are Ronda Rousey, and none of them needs to be.

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Five freaking years!

Now the ladies populate big cards as complements, as features and as equals. Nobody seems to notice the splicing of genders on a fight card. If MMA takes a black eye for showcasing the extremities of human nature, it also stands as a rare example of an even playing field in sports. In basketball, the WNBA will never be the NBA. In a cage, women and men are equally compelling; we barely distinguish between male and female matches. Mackenzie Dern and Israel Adesanya are equally radical prospects that fans are equally afraid the UFC will ruin. Leslie Smith is equal to Kajan Johnson is the quest to bring fighters together.

We’ve come a long way.

These days a big fight is a big fight, and a good match-up is a good match-up, regardless of who’s wearing a sports bra and who’s wearing a cup. It turns out that even if society struggles with it, for the most part fighting is gender blind; big mouths sell, looks matter, skills still distinguish rank, worthy fighters go unsung. We are completely used to Venus outshining Mars. We pine for the ladies. We wonder why in the hell the UFC doesn’t book Cyborg against Nunes, because, by god, that’s the fight to make. We ask why Paige VanZant is getting a push, while Marion Reneau — a goddamn high school teacher by day! Like Rich goddamn Franklin! — doesn’t?

The women are everywhere. They routinely steal the show. Their combinations fuel the imagination. They strike hard and mean, tap people with equal ferocity, and cut furious promos. They do things men can’t. Alexis Davis had a baby right in the middle of her career. That’s a trick that Chuck Liddell could never pull off, even if in later years his paunch got people to thinking.

“Bodies are weird,” Sarah Kaufman told me. “Armbarring a girl is very different than armbarring a guy, because so many girls are so hyper-flexible. I remember watching Michelle Waterson with Jessica Penne stuck in an armbar, and I was cringing in the back thinking her arm was going to snap into two pieces. Then she wiggles out of it, she’s totally fine, and wasn’t even sore then next day. The girls are different.”

We’ve come a long damn way from the queasy days of differentiating, when so many wondered if a woman belonged in a cage hitting another woman. We’ve had to dream up better clichés, because the old “you hit like a girl” thing has lost all meaning. We’ve had to acknowledge that women are just as dialed into the essential spirit of cage-fighting — the literal dictation of wills against an exhilarating potentiality of personal, very public failure — as the men.

And oftentimes more so.

Today, for the most part, we take our combat sports with a sense of equality, and that’s a hell of a development for an aging, opinionated, largely male demographic, many of whom can belch the alphabet. The women have paved the way for men to break barriers as well. If women hadn’t come along, would Elias Theodorou be afforded the opportunity to walk around the Invicta FC cage, holding up rounds cards? One wouldn’t think so. We have achieved a perfect yin and yang for equal rights in MMA. Where else can the men athletes in a sport refer to each other as douches, and women refer to each other as assholes?

That’s MMA in 2018.

The timeline is blurry, the pioneers a mesh of past and present faces, but that’s where we are. It’s hard to believe that just seven years ago UFC president Dana White said women weren’t likely to ever step foot in the octagon…

Esther Lin, Strikeforce

The Declaration – January 2011

Actually, Dana’s exact words were, “never, never” when asked when we’d see women in the UFC. This declaration came a couple of weeks after Frankie Edgar’s career-defining come-from-behind draw with Gray Maynard at UFC 125. As cocksure as ever, and just as oblivious of the consequences, Dana thanked TMZ for asking him the question that would, a short time later, come back to haunt him. The thing was, it wasn’t all that drastic.

Gina Carano had bolted for Hollywood by then, and Rousey hadn’t yet made her pro debut. Marloes Coenen was Strikeforce’s bantamweight champ, and Nunes had just taken out Julia Budd in mere seconds to virtual crickets. Zuffa was two months away from purchasing Strikeforce, which had done the legwork to advance women’s MMA. Scott Coker knew. Just like Showtime’s Gary Shaw knew, and Shannon Knapp knew, and Bodog knew before EliteXC. There were some that recognized what the women brought to MMA dating back to the pioneer Jennifer Howe’s day, back when she (practically) smoked cigarettes between rounds. Back when Roxanne Modafferi settled her good and proper in Evansville. Back when the words “women” and “cage fight” functioned as a kind of double taboo.

But White didn’t know. When he said “never,” Anderson Silva was just a couple of weeks away from kicking Vitor Belfort’s head off his shoulders at UFC 126 — that was the big fight on the horizon. In the gradually-still-booming sense, Dana White was feeling pretty good about where his company was. After all, the UFC was on the verge of securing a national broadcast partner in FOX, and would debut on the flagship later that year with a heavyweight title fight between Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez.

The UFC had Silva as a staple of the middleweight ranks, and Georges St-Pierre, the longtime welterweight king, was months away from drawing over 55,000 to Toronto’s Rogers Centre to see him fight Jake Shields. Jon Jones — the greatest phenom to ever hunt down purse-snatchers before a championship bout — was poised to become the UFC’s youngest ever titleholder at UFC 128.

Considering how far the sport had come — from the sleazy Wild West of “anything goes” to a pay-per-view juggernaut — the UFC didn’t feel it needed the novelty of women. It didn’t need anything that would bring back to mind the very word it had so strived to distance itself from (spectacle). Such bullishness made some of the original bricklayers in women’s MMA skeptical about ever breaking through into the world’s premier league.

“It was just so vocal from Dana and the heads of the UFC that it was like a zero tolerance, we have no interest, they’re freak show fights, nobody wants to watch it and all that,” says Kaufman, who began fighting professionally in 2006. “I never really thought about being in the UFC.”

Liz Carmouche — who fought Coenen for the title on March 5, two weeks before Jones beat Mauricio Rua for the title on March 19 — had it in her mind to ultimately rise up the ranks and challenge Cyborg for the featherweight title. Cyborg was the bogeywoman of the women’s MMA world, and the target of much fantasizing. She was the end of the line for all challengers, and the mighty obstacle to reaching the very greatest heights of women’s MMA.

Carmouche heard Dana’s comments, just as she heard everyone else back in the day. It was in the air. The fight wasn’t in the cage, but outside of it. The fight was a collective effort to change attitudes.

“I absolutely felt [the negativity] at the time, without a doubt,” Carmouche says. “There were so many people who would question me. ‘Why are you fighting? Why does a girl want to get hit in the face? How can your mother watch this? How do you condone that? What part of you would ever make you want to that? Nobody wants to see women get beat up!”

Carmouche, who did a five-year stint in the Marine Corps before debuting in MMA in 2010, found herself defending not just the idea that she belonged in a prizefighting cage, but that women did in general.

“I faced it the entire time, with the exception of my own teammates, my own coaches,” she says. “With them there was never any doubt, but outside of that, it was nothing but doubt. Nothing but people questioning if women belonged in the sport, and I’d say, look, why don’t you come to one of the practices? I’ll knock out one of the guys, and I’ll prove that we belong here.”

In early-2011, Dana hadn’t met the Trojan horse from the women’s ranks that would turn his pupils into dollar signs. But just eight days after Jones beat Rua, Rousey debuted in King of the Cage. She fought three more times that year, and executed like a harbinger of the coven. She tapped out Ediane Gomes in 25 seconds out in Tarzana, then Charmaine Tweet in 49. Then she armbarred Sarah D’Alelio in 25 seconds in her Strikeforce debut, and got Budd in 39. That was in November, six days after Velasquez and dos Santos kicked off the FOX deal.

Dana was one of the last to cock an eyebrow. Rousey was headed for a title fight with Miesha Tate, but she was positively hurtling toward the UFC with a sack full of arms. She was carrying with her also an important word that she intended to shove right in the middle of Dana’s bold declaration.

That word was “say.”

As in, “never say never.”

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

March 2012 – Columbus, Ohio

See, most people will remember Rousey nearly ripping Tate’s arm off the shoulder blade in Columbus, forcing those of us assembled at the Nationwide Arena to watch through our fingers. That happened, to be sure. Rousey took that belt from Tate with another first-round finish via armbar, raising her record to 5-0. The silver lining for Tate was that she lasted over four minutes in there with the Olympic judoka with the savage tendencies. Tate proved herself as a Gumby.

Rousey had emerged as a star. Winning the Strikeforce bantamweight title stood as a significant event in bringing women over to the UFC, and kickstarted the Mike Tyson comparisons.

But the fight that I think about most, the one that fed every longing and struck me as a sisterly answer to Forrest Griffin’s to-hell-with-defense fireworks display with Stephan Bonnar, was the preliminary bout between Sarah Kaufman and Alexis Davis. They went to Columbus to kill each other. No, not to kill each other exactly — to make a statement, to correct history, to pull each other’s hearts out and hold them up for everybody to get a real look at the contents. It wasn’t a fight so much as showcase of readiness and desire. It struck me as a fight for everything, from validation to fulfillment. They both stood in the pocket and chin-checked at an impossible clip. Impossible. Midway through the first round, the referee had to call time to have a doctor check out the crevasse that had opened over Davis’s left eye.

“I’m fine,” Davis told him as he wiped the blood from here eye, which had already puffed up to the size of a coin pouch.

Then they went right back at it. Wild punches firing simultaneously at chins that went defiantly unmoved. It was plant and throw. It was bite down on the mouthpiece and let the elbows fly. It was Kaufman bleeding, as Davis poured it on. It was beautiful, macabre and significant. It was communication. Kaufman landed 71 strikes (out of 164 thrown) in the first round, Davis 48 (of 94). They weren’t fighting each other, they were fighting for something else — against something else. For the chance. For a chance. Even if they didn’t consciously know it. Or so it seemed. And it played out that way for 10 more minutes.

It kept the frenetic pace throughout. When the second round ended Davis smiled, her white teeth looking electric against the crimson mask. In the third, Davis took Kaufman down in the first play at strategy. But Kaufman swept. Then Davis reversed. Their blood co-mingled. It concluded with Davis raining down hammerfists and other hard material.

The fight ended up a majority decision for Kaufman, but it was more than that. In the way that Bonnar-Griffin was transformative for the wider audience of channel-flippers texting each other in real time, Kaufman-Davis was transformative in that it showed women had bigger balls than anybody fighting in the UFC. The biggest balls. Balls the size of moons. Balls that dropped jowls. Balls that could roll great distances.

Esther Lin, Strikeforce

Of course, the fight was completely overshadowed by Rousey’s win over Tate, swallowed up like a lively shout into the void. Pfft. Gone. It was symbolic in that way of everything that would follow, too. Rousey got Dana’s attention by being a perfect storm of pretty, serious and mean, paving the way for women in the UFC. Fighters like Davis and Kaufman wore the battle scars of having fought the good fight. Pawns out clearing way for the queen.

“It was always trying to claw and push and expand on opportunities,” Kaufman says. “Things like, we don’t need three-minute rounds, we want five-minute rounds…girls shouldn’t just be on the Challengers cards, they should be on the main card…that kind of stuff.

“These were the things we pushed, trying to open up small opportunities, small doors which led to bigger doors. Ronda really stepped out, and that was the catalyst for Dana to open his eyes. I think he liked Gina Carano, because Gina was Gina. Ronda was kind of like Gina 2.0, without the sweetness but with the bad girl attitude.”

Kaufman lost her title bid against Rousey five months later, getting armbarred in 54 seconds. Davis lost to Rousey at UFC 175 in just 16 seconds (punches), right as Rousey emerged as the most transcendent thing in the sport.

“It didn’t take Ronda just to get there, but Ronda being there allowed us to get there as well,” Kaufman says. “It had been heading that way a long time. I can remember being at the gym watching the Carano-Julie Kedzie fight in EliteXC, and being so excited that you were seeing female fights on TV.”

February 2007, Southaven, Mississippi

That fight card was aptly called “Destiny,” and Kedzie-Carano was the first women’s fight to ever air on Showtime. Kedzie was 8-4, Carano was 3-0 — both were shy around a camera. Steve Mazzagatti was the referee, and he announced the bout as being three five-minute rounds during instructions when in fact it was slated for three three-minute rounds. Why? Because women. This was the gentler segue for the fairer sex, see? Still, it was the first brightly spotlit women’s fight in MMA history, which could be viewed in any living room hooked up with a premium cable package. Bill Goldberg, one of the commentators, called the moment “groundbreaking.” 
And it was. Kedzie and Carano broke some damn ground.

The fight went back and forth. Carano dropped Kedzie with a right hand in the late stages of the second round, which brought play-by-play man Mauro Ranallo up a few inches in his seat. Kedzie wouldn’t go away. She got Carano to the canvas early in third, and then went for a submission. She didn’t get it. And so it went.

Carano tripped Kedzie down at the final horn, and they embraced each other as it sounded out. In an instant they went from foes to co-conspirators in carving out a piece of history, in a sport that didn’t have much. They did it together. They stood and lifted each other’s arms in the air while taking a victory lap around the cage. It was like a bow to the house they brought down, like performers in a play. Mazzagatti, sporting a remarkably shady mustache, stood by beholding them like a proud uncle as they did. He told Kedzie and Carano that the crowd had given them a standing ovation as he held their arms waiting to hear the winner, which ended up being Carano. Showtime’s Gary Shaw hugged them both and told them that they’d made history.

It was a warm moment, and Jay Glazer tried to capitalize on it by asking Carano — who still looked as fresh as a daisy — what the fight had done for the women’s side of the ledger in MMA.

“I don’t know, what do you guys think?” she asked the Mississippians on hand. “You guys want to see something like this again?” The crowd let up a roar. “I think it showed the women are here,” Kedzie said when it was her turn to speak. “I think you guys better expect us for a long time. We throw down like the guys.”

Destiny, indeed.

Kedzie was sporting a well-earned mouse under her eye, and nobody was overly alarmed to see it there. It was a badge of honor in the game she played. A man’s game up until then. A game of indiscriminate cruelty and beauty that treated all players, regardless of sex, race or political leanings, exactly the same. And that was it. The first nationally televised women’s fight was in the books, and the next huge step had been taken for women in mixed martial arts.

Julie Kedzie
Julie Kedzie is one of the pioneers of women’s MMA.
Esther Lin, Strikeforce

A decade later Kedzie understands how that one fight blossomed in the minds of many, to the point that in 2018 women show up on just about every UFC card.

“With fighting there’s a fundamental truth to it,” she says. “It’s something we respond to. We see bodies in motion, bodies in conflict — people have very visceral reactions to that. In fact, they get upset when they don’t have a visceral reactions, saying ‘this is boring!’

“It’s a little bit more of a universal language for everybody. I think there’s just something about fighting that speaks to everyone regardless of the gender, and I think that when people say they’re uncomfortable seeing women fight and stuff like that, that to me is a society thing. Once you see good fighting, it’s just good fighting.”

Kedzie was one of the early practitioners who carried the burden of having to enlighten others, not just by delivering good fights but delivering epiphanies, visions of the future. By the time she fought Carano, she already had a good idea that the ladies were on their way.

“I started to get an inkling of it in the Bodog days, believe it or not, because the women were treated so well there,” she says. “Remember the Tara La Rosa-Amanda Buckner fight from that show? So good. I remember everybody was talking about it in the MMA community…”

August 2006, Costa Rica

“I think I did my part because, back then, Bodog was the big shit,” LaRosa says. “That was the biggest thing for women. Then it was EliteXC, when they did Gina and everything like that. That hit just after I started getting a lot of notoriety in Bodog.

“But, for a second there Bodog was the biggest thing for women’s MMA because we were on national TV — we were on Ion, which is a nationally syndicated channel. I think my fight with Buckner was the third episode. They did like seasons, where each season was a fight that they featured. It was really cool. What we were doing in Bodog escalated everything to a whole new level.”

So technically women had fought on TV before, as the New Jersey accent will remind you. What a tyrant. When LaRosa beat Buckner in Costa Rica, she was in the midst of a 15-fight winning streak, which began in 2004. She had already taken out Modafferi, Megumi Yabushita and even Kedzie herself just six weeks beforehand. She would go on to add Shayna Baszler and Alexis Davis to her casualty list before it was all said and done. She wouldn’t lose until 2010, when Modafferi would exact a little revenge in Moosin. A winning streak that spanned six years.

Tara LaRosa triangles Kim Couture (EL, MMA Fighting)
Tara LaRosa (left) triangles Kim Couture.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

LaRosa was, very quietly, one of the greatest women fighters in the world. While all the fanfare went to her male counterparts in the UFC, she was armbarring, punching and choking the shit out of people in such places as McHenry, Ill., Tokyo, Atlantic City and Vancouver. The tilt with Buckner carried some buzz. Fighting in the tropics, with the green fronds of backlit palms behind the action, LaRosa lost the first round in what turned into a bit of a war.

But LaRosa always had a flare for heroics. In the final minute, she was able to sink a rear-naked choke and tap Buckner out. Winner. She took home the Bodog bantamweight title five months later against Kelly Kobold, becoming the brightest star in a galaxy that only twinkled for the hardest of the hardcore fans.

“Afterwards there was EliteXC, which was whatever, and then Strikeforce emerged and they took things to a higher level yet,” she says. “Then the UFC took over, and now we’re here. Here we are. I think what I did, and what those of us who fought in Bodog did, was huge. We were at the top. And the bar kept getting raised higher from there.”

LaRosa, like so many before and after her, heard the doubts about women competing in MMA. She thrived in an atmosphere of doubt. Through it all, she has carried a sense of humor, especially when people tried to tell her that women weren’t as tough as the men.

“You’re familiar with the term ‘man flu?’” she says. “When guys get the flu, it’s, oh god, the world is over. I’m dying.’ When women get the flu it’s, ‘goddamnit.’ Go to the cabinet, grab some medicine, take a shower, get ready and go about the rest of our day.”

And furthermore…

“When somebody says, ‘oh, you’re such a pansy,’ it’s really interesting,” she says. “Pansies are one of the heartier flowers in the kingdom. You can plant pansies in the fall and they’ll get through to the spring. They’ll go all winter and not die. I grew up in the green-housing business.”

Long before there was a Rousey, there was the defender of pansies. LaRosa, who traded punches with everybody, and took a good many, too. LaRosa, who raised the bar at a time when the bar weighed a ton.

“And that continues after Ronda, somebody will raise the bar again,” she says. “And I think Cyborg, regardless of what people think of her, she’s raising the bar the highest. She’s the next level. I think she’s amazing. You can watch her game and she gets better and better. Now, as opposed to four or five years ago, she’s a lot more patient. She picks and chooses things a lot more carefully, and it’s beautiful to watch.”

Cyborg was patient against Holly Holm at UFC 219. She wasn’t eight years earlier when she took out Carano. She was just dominant.

Esther Lin, Strikeforce

August 2009, San Jose

That was the night Carano and Cyborg fought for Strikeforce’s inaugural featherweight title. It was the first time that women headlined a major MMA card. It was the biggest fight in women’s MMA history. More than half a million people tuned in on Showtime to watch it. Cyborg and Carano became the next step in the process.

“Carano and Cyborg, they’re going to go into the cage and throw it down,” Coker said at the time. “This will be our first women’s championship, so it’s big for us. They’ve never had a female main event on Showtime, so it’s big for them. And in the history of women’s fighting, period — boxing, kickboxing, anything — there hasn’t been a big fight like this. This is the biggest fight in the history of women’s fighting, not just MMA.”

And it was. Cyborg was 7-1 at the time, and Carano — who always struggled to make bantamweight — was 7-0. Cyborg had her way with Carano, and ended things at the 4:59 mark of the first round. It would be the last fight of Carano’s career, and just the beginning of Cyborg’s.

The reception that the fight got — as the main attraction on a card that also had the likes of Gegard Mousasi, Gilbert Melendez and Fabricio Werdum underneath — was enthusiastic. In fact, it was the moment of arrival for many who worked in darker theaters for so long.

“Carano set the bar when she fought Cyborg,” Kedzie says. “I had an inkling then that, yeah, it really was going to be taken seriously by some people. I never thought Dana and Co. would take it that way, but I did get the inkling it would be that way.”

November 2012 – February 2013: Never Say Never

The UFC announced Rousey as its inaugural women’s bantamweight champion at a press conference the Thursday before UFC on FOX 5 in Seattle — some 22 months after Dana said “never.” In retrospect, his resolve lasted only slightly longer than Rousey’s typical opponents at the time, but he ended up submitting just the same. The big difference was that Rousey didn’t have to twist his arm. After taking out Kaufman in her final Strikeforce appearance, she merely needed to talk to him for a few moments before he saw the potential.

UFC 157 happened in Anaheim, and Rousey acted as a catalyst for something that had long been in motion. She was the sledgehammer, the pot of gold, the epiphany, the life vest, and the transcendence the UFC couldn’t have imagined — she was the actualization of something many thought would never come, and the living proof that it was about time it did. She wasn’t first; she was a continuation.

But she was first.

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Mainstream media didn’t know Julie Kedzie or Tara LaRosa, but it caught on very quickly that there was a woman running roughshod through other women in a cage. Context wasn’t needed, it was simply implied — a woman was crashing the UFC’s all-men’s club, and that symbolism went just about as deep as you were willing to take it. Suddenly MMA wasn’t just palpable to a wider audience; its most violent impulses became a fun Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde story of an American sweetheart who turned vicious upon hearing the click of a latch. Rousey’s opponents? Props to be ripped through.

There were mighty grumblings, all the same, from fighters and fans alike that didn’t like the idea of estrogen anywhere near an octagon. But there was something about Rousey’s Olympic focus that came across as necessarily unapologetic, almost inevitable. She became the ambassador of a million wills. She was finishing what so many other women had started. She came to stand for whatever people wanted to assign her.

And she made history in the UFC, though for a moment Carmouche nearly did something catastrophic by climbing on Rousey’s back. She was trying to sink a choke on the very entity that had landed her in the UFC. She was trying to kill off the facilitator to her own opportunity. Ultimately, she failed. Rousey got her with an armbar late in the first round.

“I spent the first few weeks wondering what would have happened if I’d just done a few things differently,” Carmouche says. “If I had more experience, if I had prepared differently, if I had finished her, snapped her neck, broke her jaw, submitted her, whatever outcome that would have ended with my hand up. How different the world would be.”

It would have been different. The fight world wasn’t prepared for Carmouche to ruin all of tomorrow’s parties. What it was prepared for was Ronda. A strong female fighter who would travel the globe and open the floodgates for possibility in a sport dominated by men. People can hate on Rousey for the abrupt way she disconnected herself with MMA in the end, but she was the perfect person who came along at the perfect time, and now there are four women’s divisions in the UFC.

March 2018, Everywhere

Today women fighters are seamlessly interspersed with the men. They take up spots on every big card. They headline, they support, they deliver. In February, Tecia Torres and Jessica Andrade fought at UFC on FOX in Orlando, and it was universally lauded as a great technical battle. That same night Angela Hill defeated Maryna Moroz, and Reneau made a case for herself as a contender by submitting Sara McMann.

The women are ubiquitous. If it weren’t for people like Roxanne Modafferi and Debi Purcell, Megumi Fujii and Roxi Sexton, Julie Kedzie and Tara LaRosa, Gina Carano and Cyborg, there wouldn’t have been a Rousey. Without Rousey — and all the women who came through the partition she brought down — it’s safe to say the UFC couldn’t have sold for over $4 billion dollars in mid-2016.

“Who was the money maker before her? Jon Jones? GSP? Ronda took it to a level above that,” says LaRosa, the OG from New Jersey. “I think she brought in that level of holy shit. And then after Ronda, Conor [McGregor] just kind of took over and it was crazy. It kind of turned into a circus when Conor came along. But Ronda’s definitely the hero of the day.”

If it weren’t for Invicta FC, who produced nearly the entire crop of strawweights back in 2014, there wouldn’t be the high level and skills and depth. There wouldn’t be a flyweight division, and there’d be no hope for featherweight. If it weren’t for Holly Holm, we wouldn’t have one of the sport’s most shocking moments from UFC 193. If it weren’t for Miesha Tate, there may not have been an original foil for Rousey.

Rousey broke through, but it was everyone that stepped up.

“I’ve been written out of a lot of histories,” Kedzie says. “You might not remember my name, but it doesn’t matter. It was a thing I had a part in, and I take pride in that.

“I’m not going to sit here and blow smoke up your ass and say there’s not a little bit of envy, that sense of ‘why wasn’t I in the bigger fights?’ and ‘why did I peak so early?’ but there’s a sense of pride. The women are here, and I did something. I laid a brick down for this foundation.”

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