Leave it to the UFC to try to promote a fight and drop two of the biggest bombshells of 2012 in the process. During the UFC on Fox 5 pre fight press conference Dana White made two stunning announcements. The first was that Georges St. Pierre wanted to face Nick Diaz as his next opponent, bypassing the presumed next challenger Johny Hendricks. The other was more perfunctory than anything else as White presented Ronda Rousey with a UFC title as she was introduced as the inaugural women’s bantamweight champion.
Formerly the reigning Strikeforce women’s champion in the same weight division, Rousey’s championship reign was transferred to the UFC properly and her first fight announced. Rousey will be the first woman to hold a title in the UFC and be the first to defend it against Liz Carmouche, making history herself as the first openly homosexual fighter in the Octagon. It’s a bold experiment, taking advantage of Rousey’s burgeoning superstardom, but it could wind up a failure if the UFC doesn’t try and become purely about Ronda Rousey.
If Women’s MMA is to have a future in the UFC there’s a handful of things Zuffa can do to turn this from essentially an experiment to a full-fledged, self-sustaining division with time, patience and a little bit of effort. Ronda Rousey has the potential to be the first woman in any combat sport to draw a significant amount of pay per view buys and become a star that’s bankable at the box office just as easily as she could become Zuffa’s version of Kimbo Slice. If she and WMMA are to become a fixture in Zuffa’s annals, as opposed to a footnote in the grand history of the sport when it comes to the UFC, there are a handful of things they can easily do to make WMMA an accepted part of the culture.
1. An all women’s version of TUF
There aren’t 16 high quality women’s fighters in the bantamweight division that aren’t Liz Carmouche and Ronda Rousey. The wild card is Cris “Cyborg” Santos, who might not be able to make the weight as she’s had a rough time making 145 so far. There are about six who can make 135. Between Alexis Davis, Sarah Kaufman, Marloes Coenen, Meisha Tate, Julie Kedzie and Sarah McMann you have the first wave of challengers to Rousey’s rein as champion. If you throw in Kaitlin Young and a wildcard potentially like Cat Zingano you have eight fighters more than capable of taking on Rousey and having a puncher’s chance of winning.
So here’s what you do: throw all eight in the house and have a season of “The Ultimate Fighter” with the winner being guaranteed a shot at Rousey. Throw in two high profile UFC fighters to coach and you have a variant on what was initially rumored for the flyweight division. Given an episode run of 13 weeks in a single elimination format and the focus will be entirely on the division, allowing you to bring out the personalities of all involved.
2. Put women’s fights in the biggest venues possible
A women’s fight might not be big enough to make it onto PPV if it doesn’t involve Rousey, of course, but putting them on FX, Fox and Fuel cards can be enough to sustain interest. The highest level of WMMA is just as exciting as their male counterparts but not as many people have seen them fight. The #1 way to get people interested is to put them on in front of the biggest audience possible. Miesha Tate vs. Julie Kedzie may have been the best fight on the undercard of Rousey’s last title defense but not as many people saw it. If you did you couldn’t help but admire the courage of Tate to pull off a comeback against large odds against her.
The key is to get the most eyeballs. The higher level of MMA you get the less people see you, ironically, and getting exposure on an FX broadcast leading in to a PPV is generally more eyeballs than the PPV itself.
3. Emphasize athletics as much as sex appeal
Human beings are a visual creature, of course, and the first thing people notice about women like Tate, Rousey, et al, is that they’re remarkably feminine and attractive. There’s nothing wrong with leveraging this to bring in the casual viewer but you can’t market it like you market a Victoria’s Secret model. Showing a beautiful woman like Rousey or McMann, and then marketing them as attractive women who also happen to have empowered themselves to become more than physically capable of handling themselves in combat is more effective than just emphasizing that they’re attractive women who’ll be fighting in front of a bunch of drunks on a Saturday night.
From personal experience I can tell you that watching Tate fight Coenen in Chicago brought out the worst in a lot of people as they made their way to the cage for the usual reasons. And after an amazing fight between the two the crowd gave them their proper respect as athletes, not as attractive women.
4. Go for action filled fights instead of the best facing the best
It’s the sport vs. spectacle argument and unfortunately WMMA has the same problems as their male counterparts in that some matchups don’t bring out great fights. To get people to want to pay to see women in a cage you need to ensure that boring is the last word people will want to use to describe a woman’s fight. The women will bring the excitement if you can match them up well enough to do so.
5. Work with Invicta FC in some capacity
Invictia FC so far has begun to develop a core audience as a woman’s all MMA organization. The UFC doesn’t need to co-promote but what they need to do is at least develop a relationship as a minor league system at the very least.