Nearly three years ago, UFC President Dana White stated he would never have women fight in the UFC. Now, on the heels of the major announcement in which the UFC is bringing in 11 fighters from Invicta FC to fight for the newly formed strawweight division’s title, White says female fans make up around 46 percent of the UFC fan base. It’s been quite a turn of events after many viewed female fights as a novelty not too long ago.

MMA has evolved at a rapid pace over the last five to seven years, and that couldn’t be more true than when you look at the performances the women have put on inside the cages throughout the country. There are many factors pertaining to how the women’s popularity has surged in MMA, most notably the fame of Ronda Rousey and the vision and dedication of Invicta President Shannon Knapp.

Rousey has been able to become the face of female fighters, and it has been her dedication to her craft that has allowed even the most naive fan to sit back and respect the fact that the girls are just as exciting as the boys.

Meanwhile, Knapp put forth her vision and business plan to provide a respectable platform for a talented roster of female fighters to fight on.

While many would think this will be the end of Invicta, I strongly disagree. Knapp’s plan all along could have been to work out an agreement with the UFC and transform into a feeder to the organization in the same way that Resurrection Fighting Alliance is to the UFC’s male divisions. Aside from the business aspect of things, Knapp’s steadfastness with Invicta has paved the way for 11 fighters to experience an opportunity that many of them probably would not have been able to otherwise.

May will mark the beginning of the trek for these fighters, which include Tecia Torres, Bec Hyatt, Carla Esparza, Joanne Calderwood and Alex Chambers, just to name a few. They will compete on The Ultimate Fighter 20, with the winner of the show becoming the first-ever UFC women’s strawweight champion.

The change in stance from White has no doubt been helped by the surge of Rousey and all of the positive attention and revenue she has generated for the organization. Even with a limited women’s roster, these fighters have consistently been part of the most exciting fights for each card they’ve been on. The icing on the cake for White and the rest of the UFC decision-makers was the exciting season the female fighters gave for TUF 18 in which they completely stole the show from their male counterparts.

White has been known to make bold statements in the past, only to have a change of heart (see Josh Barnett). Having women fight inside the Octagon on a regular basis isn’t necessarily something that’s overdue. White, although he did say women would never fight in the UFC, was basing that on the talent pool he saw at that time (January 2011). It was hard for anyone to project the progress these fighters would make in just a few years.

In hindsight, this all appears to be just another master plan that has come together perfectly for White and the UFC.

Photo: Ronda Rousey (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)