Ronda Rousey vs Miesha Tate is the first female MMA bout to headline a Strikeforce card since Gina Carano's massive fight against Cris "Cyborg" Santos in 2009. While this is clearly an exciting time for women's MMA there are many issues around the fight's origin and promotion that are to the detriment of the growth of the female divisions. There are many disappointing things about the making and marketing of this fight including the timing, the reasoning and promoting the fight based on looks. As well as the sport and fans missing out, Sarah Kaufman is the clear victim of Strikeforce (and their parent company ZUFFA) grabbing some quick cash from one big fight, rather than carefully and fairly building a sustainable, competitive division.
Ronda Rousey is an undeniably talented fighter with a background as an elite athlete elsewhere. Her leap to fight Miesha Tate is not as astronomical as it would be for most fighters with a 4-0 record against mostly lower level opposition. However, she has previously only fought at 145 pounds and it is pretty reasonable to expect her to either fight for the title in her own division or spend some time paying her dues and climbing the ranks in her new division. This is not just about what is fair, but also what it means for the division.
135 pounds is generally considered the strongest division in women's MMA. With Rousey cutting weight to join it and Cyborg Santos sure to follow when her suspension is complete, as well as new talent coming through, it promises to become even stronger. There is a division there to build. By catapulting Rousey through the rankings of her new division, Strikeforce have sent the message that there is no real female 135 pounds division. There are no internal rankings, contender spots nor progress to be made. They have indicated that women's MMA is good for one off super fights that draw big numbers, but not worthy of being promoted properly.
The Rousey vs Tate fight is a good fight. Both combatants have exciting styles and are top athletes. But you ought not to rush a fighter into contendership, you should build them up, nurture them, test them against better opposition and when they have proved ready, you can give them a title shot.
Promotion of looks over skills
As Ronda Rousey spent her time pushing for this fight, she spent most of it openly drawing on the looks of her and her opponent as the selling point. She was worried the fight may never happen and, since a fight between two pretty girls is very marketable, she wanted it to happen as soon as possible. For the future of women's MMA, this seems pretty damning.
As a female fighter, it seems very short sighted to reduce your division to a beautiful sideshow. I understand why Ronda feels the need to make the most out of her career while she can, it just does not reflect well on her female colleagues. There is a great division of fighters there. Tate and Rousey are great athletes, each with their own story and representing wrestling and Judo respectively. That is already marketable.
Finally, it is terrible for the future of the weight class, not to mention astonishingly unfair, that the decision over who gets promoted in a division is based on looks. Unless this is soon put right, no female fighter will know what they fight for from bout to bout, unsure as to whether a prettier girl will take her place. It also means that female MMA will get bogged down deeper in this mire of dependency on looks as women play more and more on their beauty to get noticed.
Sarah Kaufman's Title Shot
Sarah Kaufman was very much in line for a title shot before Ronda Rousey pushed her way to the front of the queue by doing her best Chael Sonnen impression. Kaufman was on an impressive twelve fight win streak, including a win against the current 135 pounds champion Miesha Tate, untill she was beaten by Marloes Coenen. Since then she has won two in a row, the most recent against highly ranked Liz Carmouche. In light of her record, her bouncing back with two wins and her history with Tate, there was a clear reason to give her a title shot. The disappointment for Kaufman when it became clear that Rousey had taken her spot, must have been extraordinary. Here is what she thinks about it all:
Kaufman and Davis' Place On the Card
Adding insult to injury, Kaufman found herself on the same card as the championship bout, but as a preliminary fight. Can you imagine if, upon missing out on his shot at Georges Saint-Pierre, Carlos Condit had fought Josh Kosheck on the preliminary card? There would have been uproar.
This is not just unfair on Sarah Kaufman. Strikeforce has become the most prominent US promotion for women's mixed martial arts. Its men's divisions are rapidly becoming devalued as, before ZUFFA negotiated a new deal with Showtime, it ferried a lot of the top talent over to the UFC. What Strikeforce has left are some top male fighters in some very shallow divisions and an under promoted but potential-rich female division at 135 pounds.
Having made the decision to put together the Tate vs Rousey fight, Strikeforce had a golden opportunity to showcase a couple of other great fighters from that division and build a new contender for the winner. Instead, they have shown their intention to milk as much as possible from a one off fight between Rousey and Tate and buried another potential star on the preliminary card. This does not show a great commitment to female MMA and that is disappointing. It is also particularly short sighted since Women's MMA could well be Strikeforce's biggest asset going forward.
If you are not sure that these two fighters will put on a show worthy of the main card, check out the videos below.
Sarah Kaufman vs. Roxanne Modafferi KO Body Slam (via MMAMatosinhos)
Sarah Kaufman was the most obvious choice to challenge Miesha Tate for the Strikeforce 135 pounds title. Ronda Rousey has cleverly talked her way into title contention. Rousey is clearly a great athlete and will probably prove to be a tough and talented fighter. But her quick ascension to title contender in a new weight class is not a good move for the future of her division. Moreover the treatment of Sarah Kaufman then and previously, has shown Strikeforce to be decidedly short sighted, not to mention unfair.
This was originally posted at JIMMA. Click below for more from me about WMMA.