WMMA fans rejoiced last week when the UFC announced the signings of Sarah McMann and Alexis Davis to its only women’s division, which features bantamweights. That brings the grand total of women on the UFC roster to six, with McMann and Davis joining Ronda Rousey, Liz Carmouche, Miesha Tate and Cat Zingano. And the UFC has promised more to come.

At this point, all spectators are leery about female fighters having a legitimate place in the UFC. Does the UFC, likewise, lack the same amount of confidence, as if unsure whether there is more to lose by going forward with a complete division?

It’s no secret that UFC President Dana White’s infatuation with Rousey’s marketability led to women being a part of the UFC to begin with. Her rise to fame led White to change his stance on the idea that women can compete in the Octagon, where previously he had confidently claimed that it would never happen. Not that White makes every decision for the UFC, but his voice is surely the most prominent one in the promotion, which can lead to a trickle-down effect. And his support will go a long way in changing the UFC’s future.

Critics would argue that WMMA’s future in the UFC hinges on Rousey’s ability to maintain a championship belt. That all the UFC’s eggs are placed in one basket, and if she can’t be marketed as a champion and a main-event draw, then what hope do any of the other fighters have?

If that were the case, then the UFC wouldn’t be hedging its bets by signing other bantamweights. No one can say that the UFC women’s 135-pound division is a lock, but they can at least expect to see a handful of fights with the current roster. That leaves a certain amount of wiggle room for contenders and stars in their own right to be produced for interest towards future bouts. Remember how Australian fighter Bec Hyatt stepped into the main event on short notice at Invicta FC 4? Now she is an in-demand fighter with plenty more buzz surrounding her career, even after suffering a loss. The same can reasonably happen for any woman in any fight that the UFC will produce to a large audience.

Even if Rousey loses her championship, people will still be interested in seeing her compete. Her work outside of the cage ensures that. Ask someone like Chael Sonnen how that has worked for his career. Even so, beyond promotion, the first smattering of female fights are going to be the measuring stick of whether the UFC is going to commit to a ladies’ division or not. It will not be based on a single person like Rousey. Though, granted, the UFC would breathe much easier with her wearing gold. But then again, selling a former champion’s road back to the title is something we’ve seen before with fighters like George St-Pierre, so why would Rousey be any different?

There’s also the fight that everybody wants to see between Rousey and Cris “Cyborg” Justino. The longer the tension is built for that to happen, the bigger the payoff will be. Cyborg may have left the UFC for the time being to fight in Invicta, but the possibility is always there for the Brazilian to rejoin the Zuffa fold down the road.

If Rousey does lose her status as champion, then maybe she will be the one chasing Cyborg for a fight next. Sometimes big fights don’t happen in combat sports before the window closes, such as with Manny Pacquiao versus Floyd Mayweather, and this could be a similar scenario. But to say that such a thing not happening could ruin the division or a fighter’s career is shortsighted to say the least.

Who doesn’t want to see the supposed best athletes fighting one another? But wrangling those fighters when they know how much bargaining power they have in such a scenario is the hard part with the big-money fights. Fans are still going to watch the sport even if the big fight doesn’t happen, and the naysayers can give themselves a pat on the back for their expert prediction of something not happening and move on to the next thing to validate their intelligence.

On Monday, Cyborg and manager Tito Ortiz appeared on The MMA Hour and discussed a possible eight-fight deal offered by Zuffa that they declined. Again, it appears that critics are the ones who are being shortsighted towards WMMA in the UFC. With that sort of offer, it is obvious that the UFC plans to hold more than a few one-and-done fights for the women on its roster. The promotion hasn’t officially announced how it sees the future of women in its ranks, but it is obvious from the deals being done behind closed doors that the UFC is serious about maintaining top female talent.

This Saturday, Rousey and Carmouche will make the first step at UFC 157, and then we have Tate and Zingano squaring off at the TUF 17 Finale on April 13 to look forward to, assuming another female bout isn’t added between that time. Once the numbers return and fan reactions are analyzed by the UFC, then the promotion will have concrete evidence of whether the women are a good investment.

Worse than the perceived pitfall of putting all its hopes on one star, is having a thin division, such as the current state of the flyweights. The champion, Demetrious Johnson, has already beaten all of the top names in the division, save for a couple that aren’t exactly well known, even to hardcore fans. Other than Ian McCall, Joseph Benavidez and John Dodson, can most fans name another well-known flyweight? Yashuhiro Urushitani and Jussier “Formiga” da Silva are a couple of guys that have fought in the UFC and could bring fresh blood into the mix, but both are in need of comeback wins after falling to the stars at the top of the division. The UFC is sorely in need of recognizable names to fight for the flyweight belt that haven’t already faced Johnson. Most of the top guys listed have been playing hot potato with one another for No. 1 contender status, and it won’t be long before fans get sick of seeing them rematch each other.

The same scenario could reasonably happen with the UFC’s women’s bantamweight division unless the UFC is ready to sign as many top names as it can find, as well as marketing them to fans. It would be beyond folly if the UFC plans to put itself in the same scenario with the inclusion of the women to its ranks as it has with the male flyweights.

A silver lining to the news last week of Cyborg’s departure from the UFC was the behind-the-scenes dealings the UFC had with Invicta FC, as documented in a MMA Junkie report. Although the situation with Cyborg was to be worked out, the UFC stated that it planned to allow her to take fights with Invicta while under UFC contract. Manager Tito Ortiz asked for her to be released from her contract and the UFC obliged, allowing her to take on an exclusive contract with Invicta. That particular situation and the UFC’s dealings with Invicta’s owner, Shannon Knapp, seem to paint a picture of a positive relationship between the two promotions. So, if North America’s leading female MMA organization and the world’s largest MMA organization are bedfellows, then one can make the assumption that a sharing of talent wouldn’t be a crazy idea, and that’s something that bodes well to UFC being able to expand its venture into WMMA.

For now, having confidence in the UFC growing its roster with a full division of female fighters is still premature, but so are the claims that the division absolutely doesn’t have any hope.

It takes time for things to develop, and perhaps the ambivalence fans have shown for the flyweights is the same kind of attitude that keeps fans resistant to the women. However, the UFC can establish a complete women’s division if it so chooses, the same way it moved ahead with the flyweights. And it appears that is exactly the direction in which the UFC is moving.

Color me positively optimistic.

Photo: Miesha Tate (R) throws a kick (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

About The Author

David Massey
Staff Writer

David Massey studied Humanities and Art History at the University of Central Oklahoma. He first found interest in MMA from the first TUF show and has been hooked ever since. He began posting on mmajunkie then submitting Sunday Junkie entries and that began his interest in writing about MMA. Through twitter David found other MMA enthusiasts and began contributing articles to marqueemma.com. He looks forward to growing as a writer and being a part of the sport he loves.