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.

Holly Holm humbles Ronda Rousey in upset of the decade

In an upset reminiscent to James “Buster” Douglas defeating Mike Tyson for the heavyweight championship 25 years ago, history saw a new chapter composed as a pair of female fighters in UFC engaged in the biggest upset the promotion has ever seen. UFC women’s champion Ronda Rousey, who seemed indestructible in a remarkable rout of the women’s division, faced the biggest loss of her career at UFC 193 in Melbourne, Australia as Holly Holm, a former champion in the Legacy FC Women’s Bantamweight Division, upset and humbled her en route to staking her claim as the world’s finest.

With experience as a boxer, Holm presented a different type of opponent to what Rousey was accustomed to. In past matches, Rousey always aimed for the arm of her opponent, attempting to win via armbar submission. Holm’s boxing acumen, which has seen her win two WBF Women’s World titles (Welterweight and Light Welterweight) was a key factor towards victory as she employed a fighting strategy which saw her refuse to let Rousey fight the type of match she was used to.

Instead, Holm showed no fear, leaving her arm exposed for such an attempt. The result was a punishing punch to Rousey’s face, unsuccessful in her seventh title defense, which instantly set the tone. Just 59 seconds in the second round, Holm connected with a kick, exploiting an opening, and prompting to deliver several blows to the head.

Credit: Matt Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Matt Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

Ironically, the victory is not the first in which Holm has been considered to pull off an upset. A September 16, 2005 boxing win against Christy Martin was considered the Upset of the Year by Women Boxing Archive Network.

From the outset, Rousey refused to tap gloves with Holm at the beginning, displaying arrogance and a lack of sportsmanship. It definitely contributed to an element of karmic payback in the aftermath of the match as Rousey realized she is vulnerable.
Seeking treatment at a local hospital for concussion and facial cuts, she has stated on social media that she will come back.

At 34 years of age, Holm is a highly experienced fighter with a breadth of accomplishments ranging from boxing to kickboxing along with muy thai and MMA. While she has been fighting for over a decade, the win over Rousey has definitely served as a coming-out party, with fight fans finally recognizing her greatness.

Her boxing knockout of Alanna Jones in 2013 was considered the knockout of the year among several sites. That year, she earned several other accolades including the Lady Violence Award from FightBooth.com and the Rising Star of the Year Award from Inside MMA. She certainly lived up to her potential with an iconic second round knockout of Rousey.

As a side note, another women’s match was on the card, as Joanna Jedrzejczyk defeated Valerie Letourneau to retain her straw-weight title in five grueling rounds. With the win, she extends her MMA record to an impressive 11-0.

For Rousey’s critics, it is very hard to have any empathy for her in the aftermath of such an epic loss. Her brash and occasionally abrasive personality definitely makes her a target for criticism.

When she once guest hosted on the popular television program TMZ, she talked about what it was like to break someone’s arm. One may feel that she almost took sadistic pleasure in such an event. Having criticized other women for appearing in a state of undress in magazines, she has graced the pages of ESPN’s Body Issue, Maxim and Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue.

Taking into account that Rousey once lost in judo at the Summer Games, she bounced back to become one of the world’s most formidable fighters. This loss must serve as a wake-up call. Suffering said loss in front of a UFC-record 56,214 fans, not only will she be forced to focus even more on her fighting skills, she will need to remain humble, understanding that no opponent can be taken for granted.

Although a rematch is definitely a guarantee, likely generating unprecedented revenues for UFC and more attention towards its rapidly expanding women’s division, Holm will be hoping not to repeat in the footsteps of Douglas by losing in her debut as champion. Regardless of the future, Holm, whose MMA career record improves to a sterling 10-0 mark, has definitely established herself as a household name and claims a unique place in popular culture.

Alexis Davis looking to end Ronda Rousey’s reign as UFC champion

As Ronda Rousey looks to successfully defend her UFC Bantamweight Women’s Title for the third consecutive time, Alexis Davis is looking to pull off one of the biggest upsets in the history of mixed martial arts. Boasting a 16-5 career mark, Davis has truly flown under the radar in MMA circles.

Heading into the July 5 bout at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Rousey vs. Davis (the only females to go 3-0 in UFC) is the co-main event of UFC 175. Sharing the spotlight will be middleweight title-holder Chris Weidman battling Lyoto Machida, a former light-heavyweight champion.

Hailing from Port Colborne, Ontario, Davis is now based out of San Jose, California. Known affectionately as Ally Gator, she has a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and has also practiced Muay thai.

Of note, she owned a 9-4 record when Rousey made her MMA debut in March 2011. Davis has certainly paid her dues in MMA. From earning the Raging Wolf Women’s Flyweight Championship in 2009, to competing at the Strikeforce and Invicta promotions, she is currently as the number 3 pound-for-pound MMA female fighter in the world.

The proud owner of an undefeated 9-0 mark, Rousey is a 10-1 favorite according to the UFC, while Vegas oddmakers have varied with 9-1 to 14-1 odds. With an average fight time of two minutes and 44 seconds, Rousey also possesses a takedown rate of 70.6 per cent.

After Davis suffered a loss to Sarah Kaufman (another Canadian) at a Strikeforce Event in March 2012, she has accumulated five consecutive wins. Of note, her three career UFC fights have all resulted in victories. Beginning on June 15, 2013, she defeated Rosi Sexton at an event in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Less than five months later, she bested Liz Carmouche in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Competing at UFC 170 on February 22, 2014, she won the decision over Jessica Eye. Ironically, all three victories came in the third round.

With Rousey’s signature move being her armbar, it is of the utmost importance that Davis prepares for it. Except for when her victory over Sarah McMann, Rousey has employed it in order to defeat every other opponent. Taking into account that Davis has never submitted in any of her 21 career matches, she may prove to be Rousey’s biggest challenge yet.

Keeping in mind that Rousey has engaged in several movie roles and a growing celebrity status, it would come as no surprise to MMA fans if she was not fully prepared or took Davis for granted. Quite possibly Rousey’s toughest opponent to date, she could end up being the only fighter to take Rousey the distance. Should she manage the upset and defeat Rousey, it would also mark her the third Canadian fighter (and first female) to hold the distinction of being a UFC champion, following Carlos Newton and Georges St. Pierre.

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.

Ex-marine Shannon Ihrke emerges as one of UFC’s most popular ring girls

At first glance, it would seem impossible to fathom that a beauty such as Shannon Ihrke was once a member of the United States Marine Corps. Having grown up in the northern part of the state of Minnesota, she spent two years at St. Cloud State before leaving to enlist in the Marine Corps.

Boot camp for Ihrke would be held at Parris Island, South Carolina. Serving in an administrative capacity, Ihrke was stationed in North Carolina, South Carolina and Illinois. Various tasks for this Marine included accounting and legal administration. After four years as a Marine, she eventually reached the rank of sergeant (rank E-5), the highest ranking for a non-commissioned member of the Corps. Ihrke would leave to pursue a full-time modeling career.

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Becoming a finalist for Maxim Magazine’s Hometown Hotties competition in 2011, she would be featured on the cover of Maxim’s Salute to the Military issue. Having also been a centerfold in Show Off Magazine, Empire Radio Magazine and Fight Magazine. Runway work included Fight Chix apparel and winning the 2013 Loop Rock Girl crown in Chicago for radio station WLUP-FM (97.9 FM).

Her debut as a ring girl in Mixed Martial Arts came in 2011 as a 23 year-old at Pro Elite: Big Guns. She would also appear in her hometown of Walker, Minnesota as the Ring Girl for the King of the Cage: Winter Warriors event of December 2011.

It was only a question of time before she would come to the attention of the UFC. Appearing in the November 2013 dated UFC Magazine (on the back page), she is poised to become one of the most popular personalities of the global promotion. Following in the footsteps of Arianny Celeste and Brittany Palmer, this All-American girl next door come to life is as tough and patriotic as she is stunning.

Image obtained from Busted Coverage

Image obtained from Busted Coverage

Seattle slugfest makes women’s sporting history as UFC features first match between lesbian fighters

In reflecting on the UFC’s historic fight between two lesbian fighters featured on UFC on Fox 8, it is another statement in the promotion’s effort in bolstering the women’s division. As 2013 emerges as the Year of the Female Fighters in UFC, it is a long overdue event finally earning its share of the spotlight.

Despite the ground breaking historical impact of the match between Liz Carmouche and Jessica Andrade, it certainly augments debate among the most hardened of sports cynics. From the outset, one cannot help but wonder if this was for sheer publicity. Does this event help generate interest among lesbians?

If there were two UFC male fighters that were gay, the odds of such a match being promoted are unlikely. There is no question that UFC has a very manly and somewhat barbaric feel to it. If a male fighter even felt comfortable admitting to being gay, it could unleash significant backlash due to insensitive remarks and the possibility that some fighters may not feel comfortable fighting a gay man.

Of note, Carmouche (known affectionately as Girlrilla) was the first openly gay fighter, among women and men in UFC. A former United States Marine, the 29 year-old sports an 9-3 mark who turned UFC on its ear when she challenged Ronda Rousey at UFC 157. Originally, she was supposed to fight Miesha Tate in the match but Tate was rescheduled to face Rousey in December.

The weigh-in between Carmouche (left) and Andrade before their ground-breaking UFC fight

The weigh-in between Carmouche (left) and Andrade before their ground-breaking UFC fight

Her role as a pioneering female athlete may still take time to absorb. From being called a role model by kids, to seeing more female fighters train in her community to the invitations to appear in Pride Parades, Carmouche may quickly become as big a household name as Ronda Rousey.

While Andrade, a 21 year-old fighter from Brazil whose record is 9-3, has certainly helped to impact people’s lives also, this was her first fight in the United States. As the youngest fighter in the UFC, her nickname is Bate Estaca, which is Brazilian for Piledriver. She acquired the nickname after trying to use the illegal move during a jiu-jitsu event in Brazil.

This was the issue that Carmouche faced when she was in the Marine Corps. Closeted during her time serving her country, she admitted her same-sex preference from the beginning of her fighting career. In that regard, the groundbreaking fight is definitely liberating for these two fighters as they can express who they are.

It is ironic that UFC is the one sporting promotion that openly discussed the lesbian topic without fear of reprisal or controversy. While other sports have had female athletes such as Sami Grisafe (football), Sheryl Swoopes (basketball) and Sarah Vaillancourt (hockey) publicly admit their same-sex preference, there are many more who only admit to such a thing after retirement.

With the Fox network having broadcast the event, these two exceptionally conditioned athletes showed that they earned their recognition in the national spotlight. Although the first round saw the fighters engage in back-and-forth grappling, Andrade actually picked up Carmouche and slammed her to the mat. With Carmouche in an arm-in guillotine, she fell behind in the score 10-9 to Andrade.

After trading leg kicks to start the second round, Carmouche took charge. Although Andrade escaped a rear naked choke, Carmouche would get her in a high mount. Engaging in a ground-and-pound, referee Herb Dean stopped the match and awarded the decision to Carmouche.

While Carmouche mentioned to the Vancouver Province (prior to the fight) that they were matched up due to their exciting fighting styles, fans can only hope that the future will see more fighters judged on their athleticism and not their preferences.

Sheila Gaff’s sad footnote in UFC history could be redeemed by a comeback

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.