Cage pioneers: Ronda Rousey is the star attraction in 1st UFC women's bout in Anaheim
ANAHEIM, Calif. - Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche will make history on Saturday night when they compete in the first-ever women's bout in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Just one year removed from off-the-cuff claims that women would "never" fight for the promotion, UFC president Dana White says he couldn't be more thrilled to see the two compete for the UFC women's bantamweight title.
"We're excited," White said Thursday at the pre-UFC 157 press conference. "I'm pumped up for this fight. This is the most media attention we've ever had leading up to a fight, without a doubt."
Most of the attention is centered around Rousey, a former Olympic judoka who won bronze for the U.S. in the 2008 Beijing Games. Fighting professionally for less than two years, the 26-year-old Rousey has quickly become the face of women's MMA. Her brash, outspoken personality earns frequent headlines in the MMA world, and her devastating submission attack has seen her defeat all six of her opponents in the very first round — and all with her signature move, the armbar.
For her part, Carmouche has also made some waves as both a retired U.S. Marine and the first openly gay fighter in this history of the UFC.
"Fans have gone out of their way," said Carmouche (8-2). "They've called the gym ... just to say 'Congratulations' and 'Thank you' and 'Good luck.' They've stopped by to give me hugs. It's been great. It really has."
Both athletes have been respectful of each other's accomplishments in the buildup to Saturday's affair despite competing in a sport where a bit of controversy can often help to sell a fight. Rousey says the nature of the moment takes precedent over any potential personal rivalry.
"This is a historical event, and I think it's good that it's entirely positive," said Rousey (6-0). "There doesn't need to be any kind of bickering to get attention. The event itself is an attention-getter on its own. It's a first for the UFC. It's a first for the women fighters, and arguing is not going to make it any more important."
White says the event is already nearing a sellout and is expected to generate more at the gate than when the promotion visited the same venue in November 2011 with a heavyweight championship headliner.
Additionally, mainstream media such as HBO, Time Magazine, Rolling Stone and Forbes Magazine — outlets who never before covered the sport — have spent time with both women.
"No fighter has ever fought in the UFC that has had more attention than (Rousey) has," White said. "It's a fact. Honestly, going into it, I didn't know that would happen. I didn't know HBO and Time Magazine and all these other outlets that never cover us would. And if they did, I didn't think it was going to be positive. I thought it was going to be 'freak show.' Nobody pulled the 'freak show' card.
"Nobody has really smashed the main event on this card. It's been pretty cool."
What the event means for the long-term viability of women competing in the UFC remains to be seen. The company has already signed four more athletes to help jumpstart the division, and two of them — Miesha Tate and Cat Zingano — are scheduled to meet in April.
But what comes next won't be known until after Saturday night. Does a victory by budding superstar Rousey best serve the company? Or would an upset by overwhelming underdog Carmouche do more to help the women's cause? White says he's not willing to predict what will happen in the cage but is firmly committed to promoting the new division after the historic moment at the Honday Center.
"Ronda gets a lot of attention, and Ronda has been the story that people want to hear, but two women are going to fight on Saturday night, and one of them is going to win," White said. "Whoever wins will then defend the title. It's no different than if two guys were fighting."