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February 16, 2013

David Estrada column: UFC counting on Rousey as female drawing card

PORT ARTHUR —

    "Rowdy" Ronda Rousey will be MMA's Rosie the Riveter as she metaphorically

proclaims, "We can do it!" to the UFC.

    The Strikeforce Women's MMA champion was

brought into the UFC when the promotion folded last month. In fact,

Strikeforce's entire women's MMA division was assimilated by the UFC, a division

the MMA power never had before. The UFC named Rousey the UFC Women's

Bantamweight champion.

    Next Saturday Ronda Rousey will defend her title at UFC 157 in the

first women's fight ever in the UFC. She'll be fighting in the main event of

the evening, a rarity for women's MMA, against lesser known underdog, Liz

Carmouche.

    It's clear that Ronda Rousey is the main draw of the event. She has become the

face of women's MMA, taking the baton from Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos and Gina

Carano before her. The 2008 Olympic Judo bronze medalist transitioned her

skills well to mixed martial arts and she worked her way up the Strikeforce

ladder to become champion last year.

    Her Olympic credibility and capturing of the title made her a focal point of the

sport. And, of course, her striking good looks made her a hot commodity for the

media and Madison Avenue. Rousey graced the cover of ESPN the Magazine's 2012

Body issue and is reaping the benefits of her fame through several product

endorsements.

    Perhaps Rousey's biggest endorsement will in effect be for the UFC and mixed

martial arts itself, as she ushers in a new era for women.

    The popularity of women's MMA will grow, but how much remains to be seen. The

UFC cannot just ride the Ronda Rousey train; she is going to need compelling

competitors. Liz Carmouche is not quite there. She has only had a little bit

of visibility in Strikeforce going 2-2.

    The UFC will need to build up female

fighters in bouts to be held in the coming months and years to help sustain the

division. Another key to the long-term success of the women's division could lie in two

women mentioned earlier – Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos and Gina Carano.

    Gina Carano hit a popularity high in 2008 as she fought on CBS national

television in Elite XC and later Strikeforce. Hollywood wooed her away from the

sport after her last bout in 2009. A comeback could be monumental.

    "Cyborg" Santos was the long time Strikeforce 145-pound featherweight champion

who Ronda Rousey has actually called out. Unfortunately, Cyborg is too big to

make it down to Rousey's 135-pound bantamweight division and Rousey declined

moving up in weight. Cyborg signed with a different organization this week so a

Rousey-Cyborg bout is off the table in the foreseeable future.

    For now, women's MMA will ride the shoulders of Ronda Rousey. That is, unless

Liz Carmouche does the improbable and shakes up the division.

    David Estrada Jr. is a Mixed Martial Arts columnist for the Port Arthur News. He can be e-mailed at

DavidEstrada@DavidEstrada.com

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