When the UFC announced they were building a women’s division what they really meant at the time was they were building a division around a single fighter; Ronda Rousey. Dana White has subsequently even come out and said as much in several different interviews. The question that was on everyone’s mind was who would she fight in her first title defense.
Rumors were swirling about a potential blockbuster of a women’s bout between Rousey and Cyborg the former Strikeforce 145lb champ. Of course questions about weight came into play with Cyborg stating she couldn’t make weight, then she got a doctor to say she couldn’t make weight, then she said she could make weight, but needed more time and thus she wasn’t the one headlining UFC 157.
Other names were quickly thrown into the hat including Miesha Tate and Sara McMann, the former getting her arm contorted in a crazy position against Rousey, the later being billed as the only other challenger for Rousey. But neither lady is headlining against Rousey. Instead we have Liz Carmouche and many fans were scratching their head asking the question “Why Liz?”
Dana White stated that the fight was offered to several other fighters and that Carmouche was the only one willing to step up and take the fight. Of course those “other” fighters have publicly stated they were never offered a Rousey fight and thus didn’t decline it only to have White blast them and call them liars.
Who is telling the truth? We probably will never know unless somehow contracts that were offered show up or someone else says “Haha I was kidding, I lied.”
So for the sake of this article, let’s assume that Cyborg, Tate, McMann and others were offered a fight with Rousey and they did turn it down. The question that needs to be answered is “Why?”
I can tell you that if I was a manager of any of the fighters offered, I probably would have declined the fight and the reasoning isn’t because I thought my client was scared or not ready to fight Rousey, but because of marketing and money.
For years women’s mma has been deemed almost like the red headed step child (no offense to red headed step children). Women’s bouts have been put on as a side show, not a headliner. Slowly but surely acceptance has grown, but has it grown full scale?
But that isn’t the real issue, the issue comes back to marketing and money as stated. If I was the perceived number one contender’s manager I wouldn’t want that first fight. Instead what I would want is for Rousey to headline against someone further down the rankings, a potentially easier fight for her. I would also seek out a fight for my client against someone down in the rankings and do everything in my power including signing a contract with a bad pay first fight to get my client to be the opening bout on the pay per view that Rousey was headlining.
This does two things. It hopefully sets the tone for what is to come with an exciting women’s matchup opening the pay-per-view, and it gets more eyeballs on my client. Then after both Rousey and my client win, there is a number one contender waiting and the UFC’s marketing machine can go to town.
The argument can be made that the UFC’s marketing team could already do that, but we have to remember, casual fans of the sport probably have very little knowledge of any of the female fighters outside of what they see on a UFC broadcast.
Strikeforce was able to build up the hype surrounding a fight between Gina Carano and Cyborg because the fight was built up (through EliteXC, but Strikeforce bought Elite). That fight did massive ratings for Strikeforce and is still considered one of the most watched fights of all time.
So fast forward to today when the most known star is Rousey and then unfortunately most of the casual fans couldn’t name another. So what do you do if you are a manager of one of the potential challengers? Force the UFC to build up your fighter’s name as well as Rousey’s.
It’s smart business. Yes there isn’t the honor of being in the first Women’s title fight or pay per view headlining bout. But really, there is no guarantee that fight would do well. So why not take a step back, let someone else be the “first” and see what the UFC does after.
Is it a gamble? Yes. But it is a very intelligent one.