Women’s mixed martial arts didn’t begin when Ronda Rousey made her professional fighting debut in 2011, but she’s responsible for women being featured on mixed martial arts’ biggest stage, the UFC.
Organizations like HOOKnSHOOT were pioneers in featuring women’s fighting on their cards, hosting all-women’s events a decade ago. Other promotions followed, but women’s MMA didn’t generate widespread attention until the arrival of Gina Carano in Strikeforce in 2006. She headlined cards in Strikeforce and ElitXC, but women were no closer to fighting in the UFC than they were when Tara LaRosa made her professional debut against the late Shelby Walker in 2002.
UFC president Dana White said that women would never fight under the UFC banner, but that all changed when he met Ronda Rousey.
Rousey had recently defeated Miesha Tate to win the Strikeforce women’s bantamweight title and defended it against Sarah Kaufman. In November 2012, Rousey became the first female fighter signed by the organization and was named the first UFC women’s bantamweight champion upon her arrival.
Rousey, along with Liz Carmouche, made history in February by becoming the first women to fight in the famed UFC Octagon. Rousey has become one of the most popular fighters on the UFC roster.
Her popularity garnered her a coaching slot on the reality series The Ultimate Fighter opposite her Strikeforce rival Tate, but viewers have had a mixed response to Rousey since the season began airing in September.
“It’s not the way she’s portrayed herself. It’s who she is. It’s why women fight in the UFC because of her,” said White following UFC Fight Night 32 on Nov. 9. “I could care less if you don’t like her or like her. It doesn’t matter to me. She’s the world champion and she's badass and she goes out to win.
“I wouldn’t have done it without Ronda,” said the UFC president about brining women into the organization. “You could line up all the greatest girls on Earth from here to (expletive) Pluto, and she’s the one that when I met her I said, this chick is insanely competitive and just a different animal. And she’s what it took to get women in the UFC.”
When Carano was headlining events on CBS and Showtime, White didn’t even consider offering her a contract. It took Rousey to break down that barrier.
“Hate her or not, the reason why all these girls fight in the UFC is because of her,” said White. “Ronda Rousey is a different animal. She’s a different animal. I’m telling you, and I know her a lot better than all of you do.”