With the emergence of Ronda Rousey as a household name, the women’s division in UFC is quickly taking shape as one of the jewels of the Mixed Martial Arts crown. As the impact of women in MMA continues to grow and take shape, there too are its casualties.
German fighter Sheila Gaff has become the first woman to be released by the ultra-popular UFC promotion. Measuring in at 5’5” with a lifetime mark of 10-6-1, Gaff made her MMA debut on September 2, 2006 and had previously fought in Cage Warriors. After a first round TKO suffered at the hands of Brazilian fighter Amanda Nunes at UFC 163, her promising career was cut short.
While American MMA fans may not have had the opportunity to witness her potential as a fighter, the long road back begins for Gaff. Having fought as both a bantamweight and a flyweight, Gaff was part of the first groundbreaking group of women signed by UFC.
As a flyweight, Gaff was very successful. Winning her first three flyweight bouts on the independent circuit, her elevation to the UFC bantamweight ranks resulted in two successive losses. Prior to the loss to Nunes, she was soundly defeated at UFC 159 in April 2013. Gaff suffered a first round by Sara McMann, the first American woman to receive a silver medal in wrestling in the Summer Games (achieved at Athens 2004).
The news of this release is the bookend in a groundbreaking 2013 for women’s MMA as a viable and popular event. On February 24, 2013, Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche entered the octagon in the first-ever women’s match in UFC history.
As the women’s division in UFC only has 13 fighters (prior to Gaff’s release), it seemed a bit unfair to grant her a release. Should UFC hope to attract female fans or aspiring fighters, the release of Gaff sends a negative message.
While some fighters are simply not talented enough, there is something to be said for grooming talent or allowing for a three-strike rule; if a competitor lost their first three fights (or three consecutive fights later) in the promotion, they would face a release. With only one women’s weight class in UFC, it is only natural that some fighters may be better suited for an alternative weight class.
In this case, Gaff was more competitive as a flyweight. Should UFC’s popular with the female division lead to a grouping of weight classes, Gaff could be a contender in a potential flyweight division.
Known affectionately as the German Tank, Gaff is only 23 years old and has the potential to be one of Europe’s fienst fmeale fighters. For now, the most logical move would be to return to a flyweight class and help rebuild her confidence. With Invicta FC as a great proving ground, Gaff may be able to make history twice, by returning to the promotion after a release.