By the time Ronda Rousey had successfully defended her title against Miesha Tate, we had seen her improve her record to an impressive 8-0. Over the last few months and in the immediate aftermath, fans and media alike were in awe of her ability to secure the armbar in every outing thus far. However, despite this dominance, the question that needs to be asked is whether Rousey is just so dominant at capturing that one technique in live competition or whether her opponents are just not suitably prepared to defend against it.

Throughout the storied history of MMA, there have been many landmark moments which define the sport we see today. Some of these moments have been in terms of exposure, some have been in terms of regulation and others have been in terms of the evolution of the fighters themselves.

Women’s MMA is still in its infancy on the whole and especially within the UFC ranks. So far, it is clear to see that it is gaining momentum with every fight that takes place inside the famed Octagon, but how close is women’s MMA to catching up with the men’s side of sport?

The only way to truly evaluate how far the ladies have come, and how much further they still have to go to match the men, is to compare five key moments in MMA history from the women’s side of the sport with those of their male counterparts.

UFC 1 — Nov. 12, 1993 — Denver

The beginning is undoubtedly the obvious place to start. This is the night where it effectively all began with an eight-man tournament where the sole purpose was to determine which martial art would overcome all others. The personalities were extremely varied, just as the skills they possessed, but in the end it was a slim and unassuming Brazilian by the name of Royce Gracie who came out the victor, utilizing relatively basic jiu-jitsu concepts to overcome his opponents with apparent ease.

Whilst UFC 1 was the beginning of MMA as we now know it, from a women’s MMA perspective the journey did not truly begin under the UFC banner, but instead in Strikeforce.

There had been fights in Strikeforce and other promotions, including EliteXC, which gave women a chance to compete alongside the men. For a long time, we presumed this would be where it would stay, on the outside begging for acceptance from the one organization which holds all the cards, the UFC.

The video of UFC President Dana White dismissing women’s MMA is often replayed as a shocking reminder of just how far the ladies have come in such a short time. Without doubt, the catalyst for this meteoric rise is the Ronda Rousey vs. Miesha Tate fight back in March 2012 in Columbus. Granted, Gina Carano and EliteXC may have opened the eyes of fans to women in the sport and marks a monumental moment in MMA for the ladies, but it took Rousey and Tate to make White into a believer.

That fight was the turning point. It led the UFC to consider bringing in the women to help further develop its roster for the worldwide expansion we are now faced with in 2014 and beyond.

Just as Royce Gracie announced himself on the big stage in Denver in 1992, so it would turn out that Rousey had secured herself and the women of the future a similar chance to follow in Gracie’s footsteps with another trademark armbar finish in Columbus.

Zuffa Buys the UFC — January 2001

From the very beginning, the UFC was marketed not as a sport, but as a spectacle, which created its public perception as a blood sport and not fit for a viewing audience. The men who initially created the UFC did their best to steady the ship, but faced increasing battles to keep it running.

Then, the most important development in MMA history occurred. In 2001, Zuffa LLC purchased the ailing UFC at a time when prospects for success were considered bleak at best. From there, the company battled for several years to keep the organization ticking, moving away from the barbaric legacy of their predecessors. Instead, the focus was shifted onto the competitive element of the fights in an effort to bring legitimacy to MMA and solidify its place as an actual sport.

Looking back now, it is clear to see that without the purchase of the UFC by Zuffa based purely on the vision of Dana White, the sport of MMA would certainly not exist as we know it today and most likely not exist at all.

The same can perhaps be said of women’s MMA, at least in terms of the scale at which it exists today. In the weeks leading up to UFC 157, an unprecedented level of interest was created in women’s MMA, which in turn generated increased interest in MMA as a whole. By the time Rousey entered the Octagon to face off against Liz Carmouche, history was being made and public perception was to be challenged in much the same way that it had when Zuffa first assumed control back in 2001.

Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar — April 9, 2005 — Las Vegas

The first fight between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar is the most influential fight in UFC history and acted as the launching pad for the sport to grow into the giant that it is today.

At a time when the UFC was losing money hand over fist, two men entered the Octagon to compete for a six-figure contract and left with a place in history. Around the world today, you could talk to fans of MMA who can trace their interest in the sport back to this fight.

It is difficult to place any fight on a similar pedestal to Griffin vs. Bonnar for what it meant to the sport, but it is fair to say that Rousey vs. Carmouche was a fight of similar proportions for the growth of women’s MMA.

Whilst the action might not have been as frantic as Griffin/Bonnar produced, that fight opened up the eyes of many to something they hadn’t seen before, and the task now is to capitalize on the increased exposure.

Fierce Rivalry

In the build-up to UFC 168, much was made of the hatred between Rousey and Tate. It was a focal point that was showcased in dramatic fashion on The Ultimate Fighter reality show. However, the general consensus was that Tate, whilst definitively one of the top fighters in the division, was not equipped to deal with the skills of Rousey. And so it proved when the two met at UFC 168, shattering the prospect of a continued feud which could be used to elevate the status of the two fighters and women’s MMA overall.

There is no doubt that women’s MMA is as healthy as it has ever been and has benefited greatly from a champion who has evoked emotion, whether it be positive or negative, but what is missing is a competitive rivalry that can divide opinion.

Rousey needs to find someone who can produce the intense interest that Chael Sonnen did for Anderson Silva, that Matt Hughes did for Georges St-Pierre, what Junior dos Santos has for Cain Velasquez and what many expect Alexander Gustafsson to do for Jon Jones in the coming year.

The common belief is that currently the only match-up that could produce this kind of competitive rivalry is between Rousey and Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino. Furthermore, that fight, should it ever occur, could surprisingly be considered the first of all the ill-fated super fights to come to fruition.

Passing of the Torch

Once the ladies have gone through the above four stages similar to that which the progression of men’s MMA has followed, then it is only natural that a passing of the torch will have to occur.

We saw it at UFC 162 when Chris Weidman defeated Anderson Silva. We thought we were going to see it at UFC 167 with Johny Hendricks dethroning GSP. There will come a time whereby the “Queen of MMA,” Rousey, will either step aside or be forced aside by the next generation, who has trained in MMA from the very beginning.

At present, women’s MMA is only accepted as legitimate by true MMA fans. It is still seen as somewhat of a novelty by the mainstream media, who choose to cover it out of curiosity at this point. Whilst Rousey is recognized as an elite athlete, it is unfortunate that her fellow fighters are not given the same spotlight to demonstrate their devotion to the sport and to show that the time they spend working is no less valuable nor productive than their male counterparts.

The UFC has come a long way since its humble beginnings, but in reality the ascension of Weidman to the middleweight throne indicates that the sport is only just beginning its second life cycle. A second cycle whereby all the pioneers appear to be fading away, to be replaced by the new breed, just as we see occur on a frequent basis in other mainstream sports.

If we see Rousey develop a lasting legacy similar to what Anderson Silva has produced, only then to be dethroned by the next generation, this will be the boost that women need to be considered equal from top to bottom and not just a division with all the focus on one single individual.

About The Author

Greg Byron
Staff Writer
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Greg Byron started training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu after his brother introduced him to a local MMA fighter/coach when he was just 16 years old. Greg has trained for nearly a decade in both BJJ and MMA, competing in several grappling events within the UK. In addition to MMA, Greg possesses a law degree and works for a firm in northern part of England.