MMA headliners Rousey and Holm enter UFC pay per views as challengers

As the year in mixed martial arts culminates with the destined to be classic UFC 207 event, the women’s division consists of the most intriguing storylines. With the bantamweight title being contested, and the inaugural featherweight title to be fought for in February 2017, the challengers for both of these prestigious titles see their legendary careers possibly being on the line as well.

With batnamweight champion Amanda Nunes making her first title defense, she does so against the trailblazing Ronda Rousey, who helped elevate the importance and eventual main event status for women in UFC. Not only was Rousey the first women’s champion in UFC history, but she enters the match with the undertones of being an underdog.

After suffering the devastating upset to Holly Holm, Rousey has not entered the octagon. Although Holm should have defended her title first against Rousey in a rematch, she opted for Miesha Tate, losing the title, altering the balance of power once again in the women’s division. As promoter Dana White stated, “it cost him a big payday”. Coincidentally, Miesha Tate would lose the title in her first defense.

While Rousey’s first match fittingly puts her in a position to fit for the title, there are many doubts as to whether she still has the killer instinct that made her such a feared opponent. After Holm exposed some weaknesses against her, many fight pundits feel that Rousey may not be as intense, somewhat declawed, so to speak. Adding to this insinuation that Rousey may no longer be the dominant fighter that she used to be are the claims that Nunes is now the fighter to beat and should be poised to hold the same vice-like grip on the title that Rousey used to have.

Amanda Nunes (left) faces off against Ronda Rousey during weigh ins for UFC 207 at T Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports Image obtained from: http://ftw.usatoday.com/2016/12/ronda-rousey-ufc-207-amanda-nunes-instagram-fans-prove-you-right-message

Amanda Nunes (left) faces off against Ronda Rousey during weigh ins for UFC 207 at T Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports Image obtained from: http://ftw.usatoday.com/2016/12/ronda-rousey-ufc-207-amanda-nunes-instagram-fans-prove-you-right-message

One could compare Rousey vs. Nunes to the iconic match that took place between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, which was Ali’s big comeback, placing him back in the stratosphere of the elites. Doubts about Ali were evident before the match, claims that he may have been washed up. Although he beat Foreman, he did so because he made adjustments and did not rely on his former fight style, employing the “rope a dope” to reclaim the title he brought unprecedented prestige to.

Suddenly, Rousey is in the same position as Ali, who passed away earlier this year. If she loses this match to Nunes, her career will lose the luster it once had, no longer holding her in the conversation for the title. Should she manage to defeat Nunes (which will mean not panicking if things do not go her way in the first round), she will make history as the first woman to capture the UFC Bantamweight title twice.

Adding a tinge of irony to Rousey’s predicament is the fact that Holm, the woman who beat her for the title, is in a similar situation, as she enters UFC 207 with her career in the balance. Since Holly Holm defeated Ronda Rousey to capture the bantamweight women’s championship, the division has experienced a carousel of champions, with the title changing hands four times.

After losing to Tate, Holm suffered a second straight loss, bested by Russian fighter Valentina Shevchenko, which was the main event of UFC on Fox 20. With Holm entering UFC 207 with two straight losses, the baseball analogy of three strikes and you’re out may hold tremendous meaning. If she has any hopes of reviving her career, her fight against Germaine de Randamie for the women’s Featherweight championship is a must-win situation.

In addition, there is the potential element of unprecedented achievement for Holm, who could make mixed martial arts history with a win against Germaine de Randamie. Of note, there has never been a woman in the history of UFC to hold titles in two different weight classes, which would place Holm in rarified air, adding to her amazing legacy that also consists of several boxing titles.

Miesha Tate adds to intrigue of UFC women’s bantamweight division as its champion

On the surface, Holly Holm’s first title defense as women’s bantamweight champion at UFC 196 seemed like a warm-up match. Taking on Miesha Tate, who had been soundly defeated twice by Ronda Rousey, the unbeatable champion that Holm dethroned, there was no question who the underdog in this match was.

Continuing the trend of the unexpected developing in the women’s division, Tate has now staked her claim, reigning on top with the most prestigious title in female mixed martial arts. The shocking win, which was attained through a fifth-round submission choke hold, shook UFC to its core.

Photo credit: Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Photo credit: Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

A rematch between Holm and Rousey would have resulted in a significant event that would have likely resulted in record revenues for the women’s division. There were definitely visions of Rousey-Holm being the Ali-Frazier of women’s mixed martial arts, an epic rivalry that would have only strengthened the role of UFC’s women’s division.

Instead, the possibility of an eventual Tate vs. Rousey match shall hold no appeal. Unless Rousey enters such a match unprepared or out of shape, the reality is that Tate will struggle to mount a strategic attack against a fighter who has dominated her. In addition, a defeat of Tate would seem a hollow victory for Rousey, as it was Holm that she needed to avenge her loss to.

Holm’s future in UFC is one that is unknown as Tate’s presence contributes to a bizarre triangle of drama for the women’s division. As the third women’s champion in the last six months, Tate does not really have an opponent to prepare for yet. Rousey has not declared when she will return. If Rousey does not return by year-end, Holm could face a rematch situation with Tate.

In reality, Holm deserves the chance at a rematch. Although she claims it was her decision to fight Tate before Rousey, one could understand that it may have been her prerogative to be seen as a fighting champion, rather than sight casually idle and wait for the big payday against Rousey. Should such a rematch with Tate occur, it would definitely be the fight to save Holm’s career. With due deference to Holm, known as “The Preacher’s Daughter”, she now faces the predicament of being considered a one-and-done champion, similar to James “Buster” Douglas, who was immortalized for his defeat of Mike Tyson.

Meanwhile, Tate is certainly trying to stimulate interest on a possible renewed rivalry with Rousey, while proving that she is worthy of the moniker of champion. While Rousey posed for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue following her loss to Holm, it only adds ammunition to Tate’s weaponry of words. Calling Rousey a broken woman, criticizing a pereceived softer persona, Tate has proceeded to call her the B-word and making comments about her body odor.

The only statement that will have any value is defeating her in the cage. Even if Rousey is considered kinder and gentler, Tate’s words may push her buttons, reigniting an intensity which may result in Tate facing her downfall. While Tate deserves to be admired for bouncing back from losses to Rousey, able to climb to the top of her profession and become a champion after a career that seemed in decline, her lack of humility may only serve to contribute towards another title change, rather than establishing a legacy.

Female fighters prominent in Topps latest UFC trading card release

In the last year, Topps has made a significant breakthrough with the increasing number of female athletes featured on its trading card products. Starting in autumn 2013 with its card set commemorating the American contingent competing at the Sochi Winter Games; other female athletes were given the trading card treatment in 2014, as part of Topps annual Allen and Ginter plus World Wrestling Entertainment card releases.

With autumn marking hockey card season, Topps counters with its newest offering featuring the heroes from Ultimate Fighting Championship. A 200-card base set, UFC Champions consists of the most competitors from the women’s division in any one set.

The first card in the set featuring a member of the women’s division is number 9 as Jessica Andrade is featured. Following her at number 10 is Julianna Pena. Part of Team Rousey during the 18 season of The Ultimate Fighter, she would defeat Jessica Rakoczy in the season finale. Currently suffering from an injury to her right knee, her presence in the set can only help build the momentum for her comeback.

Gold variation on Ronda Rousey's trading card (Obtained from http://www.cardboardconnection.com/)

Gold variation on Ronda Rousey’s trading card (Obtained from http://www.cardboardconnection.com/)

Two other fighters from season 18 of The Ultimate Fighter are part of the set. Peggy Morgan, another member of Team Rousey, is known as the Daywalker. Featured on card number 57, Morgan lost to Jessamyn Duke in the season finale of Ultimate Fighter 18. Raquel Pennington, whose nickname is Rocky, graces card number 179. A member of Team Tate during the season, she defeated Roxanne Modafferi by unanimous decision in the season finale. Her first UFC fight after said finale came on March 15, 2014, suffering a loss to Jessica Andrade.

Women’s champion Ronda Rousey, quite possibly the most popular competitor in UFC can be found on card number 76. Only three of the four competitors that Rousey has defeated in UFC have also been given the cardboard treatment.

Liz Carmouche, the first-ever opponent of Rousey in the UFC can be found on card 119. One of Rousey’s biggest rivals, Miesha Tate, who was defeated by armbar submission on December 28, 2013, is on card 42. Of note, card 116 features Sara McMann, facing defeat in the first round on February 22, 2014. Canadian Alexis Davis, which elevated Rousey’s career MMA record to 10-0, was not featured

Rousey’s next opponent, Cat Zingano is on card 97. Ranked as one of the top five female MMA Fighters in the world, Zingano will challenge Rousey at UFC 182 on January 3, 2015. Another top ranked fighter in the set is Bethe Correia. Hailing from Brazil, she holds a 9-0 record in MMA. Card number 91 is where collectors can find her. Another Brazilian featured in the set is Amanda Nunes. On card 35, the Lioness of the Ring holds a 2-1 career mark in UFC. Her loss came to Cat Zingano at UFC 178 on September 27, 2014.

The fighters involved in one of the more controversial UFC women’s matches are both part of the set. Jessica Eye, whose October 19, 2013 victory over Sarah Kaufman was overturned due to testing positive for marijuana can be found on cards 106 and 133. Of note, Eye is looking for her first-ever UFC win, and is hoping to obtain it after a November 15, 2014 match against Leslie Smith.

Kaufman, the first Strikeforce Women’s Bantamweight Champion also earned the first-ever Hardcore Championship Fighting Women’s Bantamweight Champion. Having lost to Rousey in Strikeforce competitions, she has a 17-2 career mark.

Of note, the female fighters even make their way into the various insert sets. Of note, Rousey leads the way as she can be found in 9 different insert sets. Such sets include Autographs, Autographed Relics, Autographed Jumbo Fight Mats, Champions Single Belt, Champions Full Belt, Fight Night Highlights, Octagon Greats, Octagon Greats Autographed and Mat Relics.

Jessica Eye and Julianna Pena join Rousey in the Autographed insert cards. Part of the Autographed Relic inserts includes the likes of Amanda Nunes and Miesha Tate. Of note, Pena is also part of the Autographed Jumbo Fight Mat Relics set.

Considering that in years past, the only women of the UFC that were featured on trading cards were the ring girls, the inclusion of so many fighters (especially with the insert sets) in its base set is an encouraging sign that the women’s division is a substantial part of UFC.

Ronda Rousey has emerged as the most popular fighter in the entire UFC

While some of the words that could describe Ronda “Rowdy” Rousey include abrasive, polarizing and provocative, there is no denying her popularity. Although her bad girl persona is revolutionizing the perception of women in sport, she has risen as the premier name in the UFC empire.

On the cover of the September 2013 edition of Maxim Magazine

On the cover of the September 2013 edition of Maxim Magazine

Considering the absence of once bankable stars such as Tito Ortiz and Georges St. Pierre, Rousey has become the selling point for the promotion, including the headlining of pay-per-views. In the 2014 edition of the official UFC calendar, Rousey gained the coveted January slot, testament to her already remarkable popularity.

The highly anticipated yet historic UFC fight in Seattle last March between lesbian fighters Jessica Andrade and Liz Carmouche gained traction as the presence of Rousey propelled a need to establish rivals in a rapidly expanding women’s division. It came as no surprise when the most recent season of The Ultimate Fighter series featured Rousey and her arch-rival Miesha Tate as trainers.

Of note, Rousey’s December 28, 2013 tussle with Miesha Tate for the women’s bantamweight title was the main event at UFC 168. Although many experts believed the match could have resulted in an upset, they were proven wrong when Rousey gained another victory by submission. As a side note, Rousey’s trainer, Edmond Tarverdyan actually placed a photo of Tate on his body protector so that Rousey could strike it during warm-ups.

While Rousey entered the octagon to a chorus of boos, she did not endear herself to the haters after the match. Although bad blood existed between the two fighters, issues over who paid their dues and overt sexuality, Tate offered Rousey a hand shake to which Rousey walked away. Some sporting purists may say that it was poor sportsmanship on her part but the true reality is that she has established herself as a lightning rod for controversy.

Despite the controversies in her career, her impact in popular culture is indisputable. From making Jim Rome blush in a TV interview about her approach towards intimacy before a fight to guest hosting on TMZ, Rousey’s star has also caught the eye of Hollywood. Having inked film appearances for the next installment in The Fast and Furious film franchise along with The Expendables 3, Rousey is breaking ground for female athletes.

While her bravura could easily be translated into cockiness, the combination of her bad girl persona, sex appeal and rough and tumble demeanor has captured the imagination of sports fans. From her appearance in 2012’s ESPN Body Issue to gracing the cover of Maxim Magazine in spring 2013, the editions quickly flew off the newsstands, becoming collector’s items.

Having emerged as a household name in a sport where brutality and aggressive behavior is the norm, it may be seen as ironic for the hardcore fans of the Mixed Martial Arts brand that a female fighter has emerged as the flagship. It harkens back memories of professional female wrestler Mildred Burke.

During the Great Depression and the early years of the post-World War II era, Burke was the biggest star in professional wrestling. At a time when the male grapplers endured difficult selling their sport, Burke’s personality and enthusiasm shone as women broke barriers in the traditionally male-dominated domain. It was not uncommon that matches Burke main-evented drew five to ten thousand paying customers. Today, Rousey is following in her footsteps and emulating her impact.

Her next test shall come at UFC 170 against fellow Summer Games competitor Sara McMann. With a background in wrestling, there is certainly no bad blood between these two. Having started wrestling at the age of 14 in North Carolina, she gained a silver at the 2003 World Championships. Of note, she would follow it up with bronze medal performances in 2005 and 2007. In typical Rousey style, she did state to reporters that she did not mind if she was seen as the bad girl compared to McMann’s cheery image.

Aficionados of the sport believe the Rousey is not as good on her feet and that her strategy favors getting opponents off their feet so she can place them in her patented arm bar. Even a loss to Rousey would do nothing to tarnish her image. All of the greats eventually lose. Considering she earned a bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Summer Games, she can be beaten.

Of note, legendary boxers Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson ruled their generations with an in-ring presence that was undisputed. Despite the eventuality that their careers would peak and losses were inevitable, their legends were firmly entrenched. Rousey has established the same type of legacy as she has helped to not only challenge the cultural norm but provide women with the opportunity to main event on the biggest stage in MMA.

ESPN Body Issue features several influential female athletes

For the fifth time in its publishing history, ESPN: The Magazine is publishing its Body Issue. Featuring male and female athletes that appear nude, eight different covers are available. The female athletes which grace the variant covers include funny car driver Courtney Force, X-Games participant Tarah Gieger, soccer player Sydney Leroux and beach volleyball legend Kerri Walsh-Jennings.

Basketball legend Swin Cash, currently with the WNBA’s Chicago Sky appears in the magazine. She follows in the footsteps of other WNBA athletes such as Diana Taurasi (2010) and Candace Parker (2012). Of note, Taurasi and Cash both played collegiately with the Connecticut Huskies.

Of all the female athletes that appear in the issue, the most artistic and unique photo belongs to Kerri Walsh-Jennings. Having won three consecutive gold medals in beach volleyball in the Summer Games (2004, 2008 and 2012), Walsh-Jennings gave birth in between two photo shoots for the magazine.

One photo shows Walsh-Jennings while pregnant, and the other shows her holding her newborn baby in her arms. While she is not the first pregnant athlete to pose for the magazine, softball hero Jessica Mendoza appeared in the inaugural edition of the Body Issue, her images side-by-side reflects pure art.

KerriWalsh

A pair of X-Games competitors, Tarah Gieger and Elena Hight is both part of the 2013 edition. Born in Puerto Rico but raised in Florida, Gieger started racing professionally as an 18 year-old. The first gold medal of her X-Games career would come in 2008 during the first-ever women’s super cross event.

Tarah Gieger photographed by Peter Hapak

Tarah Gieger photographed by Peter Hapak

Hight is a competitor in the winter version of the X-Games. Having started snowboarding at six years old, she would participate at the 2006 Torino Winter Games and the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games. Her greatest legacy in the sport is becoming the first-ever snowboarder to land a double backside alley-oop rodeo in halfpipe competition. She would brave the elements wearing only her snowboarding boots during the photo shoot for the Body Issue.

The youngest daughter of Funny Car national champion John Force, Courtney becomes the second member of the Force family to appear in the Body Issue. Her father actually appeared in the publication in 2011. At the age of 21, she won her first competition in the Top Alcohol Dragster category during an event in Seattle.

Three years later during 2012, Force would become the third woman to win a TF/FC (Funny Car) race by winning The Northwest Nationals. In 2013, she would make more history as the first woman to claim first place in the O’Reily Auto Parts Winternationals. For her photo shoot, Force is stranded in the middle of desert with only an empty gas can. She would have no trouble finding someone to help fill her tank.

As one of America’s female boxing heroes, Marlen Esparza forgets her trunks but brings her gloves for the Body Issue. A bronze medalist from the 2012 London Summer Games, she is only 24 and is poised for a great career ahead. As a role model for the Latina community, she also has endorsements with Cover Girl and was featured in TV ads for Coca-Cola and McDonalds.

Scottish golfer Carly Booth is a 20 year-old phenom that represents the future of the sport. Her photo shoot involved some driving practice wearing only her golf shoes at the scenic Chelsea Piers in New York City.

Carly Booth photographed by Williams and Hirakawa

Carly Booth photographed by Williams and Hirakawa

The 2006 Ladies Scottish Open marked her professional debut while in 2008, she would be the youngest player ever to compete with the British team in the Curtis Cup. At the tender age of 17, she qualified for the Ladies European Tour, the youngest Scot ever.

Appropriately, the 2012 Ladies Scottish Open represented her professional tournament win. During the three-day event, she wouild prevail by only one storke as she finished with a score of -4. Forty-two days later, she would emerge victorious again. In a playoff victory over Caroline Masson and Anja Monke, she won the Swiss Open with a -12 score.

Of all the female athletes that have appeared in the Body Issue, Agnieszka Radwanska suffered controversy for it. The number-four ranked women’s tennis player in the world is part of a religious cause in her native Poland. It was a campaign aimed at Catholics to not be ashamed of their beliefs.

Having also served as a WTA ambassador for Habitat for Humanity, the compassionate tennis player found herself disqualified from the cause.
Voted as the Most Popular Player in the WTA in 2011 and 2012, her legacy in tennis is one where she has made history for her homeland. In 2007, she became the first Polish player to win a WTA title and the first to be ranked in the WTA Top 10. Having also reached the finals of Wimbledon in 2012, she was the flag bearer for Poland at the 2012 London Summer Games. In 2013, she would become a receipient of Poland’s Gold Cross of Merit.

One of Ronda Rousey’s biggest rivals, Miesha Tate will challenge her for the Bantamweight title on December 28. While Rousey appeared in the 2012 edition of the Body Issue, Tate’s appearance marks the second consecutive year that a female UFC fighter is featured. As fans anxiously await the renewal of the most intense female rivalry in mixed martial arts, Tate also challenges Rousey in the looks department.

Miesha Tate photographed by Ben Watts

Miesha Tate photographed by Ben Watts

Having started their rivalry with the Strikeforce promotion, a title match between the two was the main event of a March 3, 2012 card in Columbus, Ohio. While Rousey defeated Tate for the title, it proved that women could headline a mixed martial arts card.

Born in Canada, Sydney Leroux is a competitor with the US women’s national soccer team. Her American father, Ray Chadwick was a former baseball player with the California Angels. Having also played for the Canadian Under-19 team, her associations changed in 2008.

Sydney Leroux photographed by Peter Hapak

Sydney Leroux photographed by Peter Hapak

Having played at the NCAA level with the UCLA Bruins, her career in the W-League was impressive. With the Vancouver Whitecaps, she was the youngest player ever to debut for the team at 15. A stint with the Seattle Sounders was followed by her current role with the Boston Breakers in the National Women’s Soccer League.

During the 2012 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifiers, she scored five goals in a 13-0 whitewash of Guatemala. Perhaps more impressive was the fact it was only her second cap with the US team. As the youngest member of the squad during 2012, she would help them to a gold medal at the 2012 London Summer Games.

While these remarkable women cover a wide range of sporting endeavors and unique backgrounds, all of them have broken ground in their respective sports. Although the exposure of one’s physique may not be for everyone, it is the utmost representation of sacrifice and hard work. Sending an empowering message, the barriers these women have shattered, and the odds they have overcome makes them role models and symbols of a great future in women’s sport.