Are Women the New Face of the UFC?

Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey

Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey

“Never. Ever.”

That’s how Dana White responded in 2011 when asked when there would be women in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. But just two years later, Ronda Rousey is not only fighting in UFC 168, the year-end blowout event at the MGM Grand this Saturday, she is the co-headliner along with Anderson Silva and current men’s middleweight champion Chris Weidman. You might even say the defending women’s bantamweight champion is the face of White’s franchise as she heads into the toughest bout of her young career against Miesha Tate.

The UFC has now integrated women into all aspects of their organization and in most cases, female MMA fighters offer as much of a mainstream draw as men in the 20-year-old sport. Rousey rose to fame even before her UFC debut—almost dislocating Tate’s arm when she defeated her in the first round of the 2012 Strikeforce women’s championship, then following it up by posing nude on the cover of ESPN The Magazine’s 2012 Body Issue. And Tate, who will be the first person to fight Rousey twice, has become a sports talk show darling in the weeks leading up to the rematch.

White himself credits Rousey with creating a home for women within the UFC.

“I wouldn’t have done it without Ronda,” White said at UFC Fight Night 32. “She’s the one that when I met her I said, this chick is insanely competitive and just a different animal. And she’s what it took to get women in the UFC.”

But what will it take for them to stay there? If Rousey loses on Saturday, will the women’s division survive?

All signs point to yes. The UFC has recently announced the addition of a 115-pound division to accompany the current 135-pound division. It’s also released information regarding the first all-female cast of its television show, The Ultimate Fighter.

White has always claimed to be about orchestrating the best fight possible, and there are female fighters in other promotions who are more than capable of pushing Rousey or another defending champion to her brink.  Cris Cyborg and Holly Holm boast impressive records and victories.

If Rousey wins on Saturday, the UFC could also choose to maintain a roster of amateur female MMA fighters and let Rousey dominate. We’ll likely know more about UFC’s strategy in early 2014, but for now UFC 168 has the attention of the MMA world and all eyes will be on Rousey as she seeks to defend her title.