This weekend the UFC takes its biggest and riskiest leap forward in a long time as it launches women’s MMA into the mainstream for the first time.
And they enter in not as a sideshow, supporting act or a degrading peep and giggle Foxy Boxing contest, but as the real deal, the Main Event for UFC157 for the Women’s Bantamweight Championship.
Front and centre is the inaugural UFC women’s champion, Ronda Rousey, without whom there would be no UFC women’s division. Through sheer force of personality and performance she converted UFC President Dana White from a WMMA skeptic to the man now backing Rousey as his organisation’s next mainstream star.
For Rousey’s co-star, Liz Carmouche, it is no less significant an entry into the Octagon, she will become the UFC’s first ever openly gay fighter to step into the ring.
To top it off veterans Dan Henderson and Lyoto Machida will square off for the first time and Urijah Faber makes his return to the ring.
But the true and rightful centre of attention this weekend will be when the women enter the Octagon for the first time in possibly the most historic UFC event since UFC 1.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea but don’t for a minute think that these women aren’t every bit as tough, dedicated or skilful as their male counterparts.
Rousey, a former Olympic Judo bronze medalist, has blazed the kind of trail to the top that has her name deservedly written up in lights.
Seven wins from seven fights, all by first round armbar. Rousey has never had a MMA fight that lasted longer than four and a half minutes.
Her highlights catalogue makes for some pretty awe inspiring and simultaneously gruesome vision. She has justifiably earned the nickname of ‘The Arm Collector’.
But she isn’t simply a one-trick pony, as a former Olympic judo medalist, her stand-up grappling skills and ability to perform complex throws are lightyears ahead of her competition and her kick-boxing is improving with every outing.
Setting up arm-bars is a difficult proposition for even the best grapplers and is made even harder by the fact that everyone knows how Rousey wants to end up. As her reputation has grown, she has had to develop a whole bag of tricks to keep her submission streak going.
For a long time Dana White refused to entertain the idea of women fighting under his banner but Rousey’s prowess in the ring combined with her ever developing media skills have swayed him.
He has thrown his support completely in her corner and is pushing her to become one of the public faces of the UFC.
Of course, with the spotlight shining so brightly on Rousey there is always the possibility that her opponent, Liz Carmouch could spoil the party.
She has no public pressure or expectations to weigh her down; very few coaches, ex-fighters or commentators are giving her a shot, but sometimes that cocktail of freedom can push a fighter to the next level.
Unfortunately for Carmouch the clash of styles really doesn’t give her much chance of success in this fight.
Her strongest moments have come when she has been able to gain control in the mount and in grappling exchanges, however grappling is exactly where you don’t want to end up against a former Judo medalist.
Rousey’s only obvious weakness is her under-developed striking but Carmouch has never shone in that area either.
In just about every aspect this is Rousey’s big coming out party and the matchup has been chosen accordingly.
The UFC has committed to the women’s bantamweight division, signing a batch of women fighters to make up the numbers but so much resides on Rousey’s shoulders and her ability to become a star.
If she loses this weekend, the division will quickly become lost and could quickly drift into irrelevance, as the men’s bantamweight division has arguably done over the past year.
In the grand scheme of things though, this fight is bigger than either Rousey or Carmouche, it is a landmark event for all women in Mixed Martial Arts.
Before this event the most a female fighter could hope for is some indie recognition or a spot on the Strikeforce roster.
Now the biggest MMA promotion in the world has broken down the glass ceiling for them and has decided to put its full weight behind Women’s MMA.
Now it’s over to the fans to support it.