I think the exact moment it hit me was when Jessamyn Duke made the decision to take opponent Peggy Morgan to the mat with a headlock takeover right out of 1980's pro wrestler Tully Blanchard's playbook: Female mixed martial arts (MMA) -- which was largely the focus of this past Saturday's (Nov. 30, 2013) The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 18 Finale -- may be exciting, but the level of skill on display isn't always up to par with that shown by the ladies' male counterparts.
After all, the reason fighters don't use a lot of headlock takedowns in the cage is because it gives an opponent a gift wrapped opportunity to get back mount.
That's exactly what Morgan did after getting taken down by the overanxious Duke. And it likely would have cost her the round -- or possibly even the fight -- had not the worst referee in the business, Kim Winslow, stood them up as Morgan was working for a rear-naked choke.
Technique dull as a hair clogged Bic safety razor was also on display at times in the Raquel Pennington vs. Roxanne Modafferi main card opener, as well as the women's tournament final that pit Julianna Pena vs. Jessica Rakoczy.
Modafferi may be a 10-year veteran of the sport, but her awkward striking occasionally resembled that of a beginner making her professional debut. Pennington landed some good shots on Modafferi, but she appeared tentative at first and still wasn't able to put away her opponent despite having her in numerous bad positions.
From start to finish, Pena vs. Rakoczy was a one-sided mauling; however, despite getting the victory, Pena's style is more that of a crazed berserker than a measured tactician. Bum rushing opponents like a hopped up Tasmanian Devil may be great quick fix for explosive, but less-skilled, fighters who are starting out their careers, but it's a style that leads to increasingly diminished returns unless it's accompanied by significant technical advancements.
Speaking of Rousey though, who meets opposing coach and challenger Miesha Tate for the women's 135-pound title at UFC 168 on Dec. 28, 2013, isn't what we've seen of her so far rather one dimensional, too? Sure that one dimension is absolutely phenomenal, but in a way doesn't watching Rousey armbar ladies left and right kind of feels like the old days when nobody could figure out Royce Gracie's Brazilian jiu-jitsu game or Mark Coleman's ground and pound?
Furthermore, what does it say about the women's division in UFC when, after Rousey's rightful challenger Cat Zingano was forced to pull out of their fight and TUF 18 coaching gig because of a knee injury, the best available challenger UFC could come up with was Tate -- a woman coming off a loss with a 1-2 record in her past three fights?
Although all of the above criticisms are certainly valid from the perspective of pure sport, here's the rub: None of them matter in the slightest.
When it comes down to it, fight promotion is all about drawing money. Promotions that put on fights fans want to see thrive, and organizations that don't had better start preparing a plot next to Elite XC or Affliction in the MMA graveyard, because they won't be long for this Earth.
While it's still too early to know how TUF 18 Finale did in the ratings -- and a number of interminable commercial lulls in the action probably didn't help matters -- based on the rations for this season so far, the reactions female fighters have consistently received from live crowds -- and the buyrate for Rousey's first title defense at UFC 157 -- it's safe to say that a large portion of UFC's audience is all too willing to emotionally invest in female fighters.
And that's really the only story that matters coming out of the WMMA experiment on this past season of TUF. It's entirely possible the women on season 18 won't become the female version of the inaugural cast that went on to produce several UFC mainstays. However, even if all these women are eventually surpassed by more elite athletes who will inevitably be attracted to MMA with the more exposure women receive in UFC, what's important here is that right now fans see many of them as stars.
Modafferi is perhaps the perfect embodiment of this. She hasn't won a fight since 2010 and is riding a six-fight losing streak. With that being said, nobody outside of the marginal subset of UFC fans who actually follow the sport closely are aware of this. To them she's an extremely likable woman who merely came up short in the biggest fight of her career. UFC would be silly not to give her at least another fight, since fans have elected her as a star thanks to her unique personality.
Maybe she'll improve with better training in the United States, or perhaps she just isn't an elite, UFC-level fighter in 2013. The important thing is fans actually care about her, unlike 95 percent of fighters on UFC's roster. If it ends up she can't hack it as a UFC fighter, the company would be wise to offer her some kind of on-air position, perhaps as an analyst for women's fights or some other role that utilizes her charisma and rapport with the public.
Likewise, Pena, Pennington and Duke should also be brought along slowly with opponents who can offer them respectable challenges, but who also won't expose them as the somewhat green fighters they still are. It would also be wise to feature Shayna Baszler's official promotional debut in a televised match slotted in a relatively meaningful position (i.e. not "Prelims" under card match) to capitalize on her exposure on TUF.
Despite whatever deficiencies in technique the fighters occasionally display, time and again women's fights have proven to be show-stealers in UFC this year.
Luckily, the majority of UFC fans don't care about technique -- all they want is to be entertained. And as long as women in UFC keep delivering that entertainment, whether it's through gritty performances inside the cage or characters fans find themselves getting wrapped up in, their place at the table in MMA's biggest show appears to be guaranteed.