Originally written on January 9th:
The world of women's mixed martial arts got thrust back into the forefront of MMA coverage this past week with two bits of news. Social media, specifically, was abuzz with the hardcore MMA fans opining.
The biggest bit of news was the failed drug test of Cris "Cyborg" Santos. Since the news has broken she has come out to blame it on a diuretic used to cut weight for the fight, regardless of this being true or false the blame still falls on the athlete so that's moot. The subsequent fallout has been that Zuffa stripped Cyborg of her championship and will put an end to the 145 pound division.
I, personally, agree with the decision.
The division has always been shallow, created to house Gina Carano and Cyborg. After their fight, and Carano's departure, it was Cyborg alone with occasional random fights vs. 135 pound fighters or other fighters they signed to short deals so that Cyborg could have someone to compete against. I've felt like they could have ended the division long ago and without Cyborg it is most certainly the correct decision.
The demise of the 145 division opened the flood gates of staunch WMMA supporters about how this is an outrage, Zuffa hates women's MMA, Dana is just looking for excuses and a variety of other instantaneous fan reaction that smell of emotional overreactions. And I understand that, I love women's MMA too, but you can't let your emotions cloud your logic in looking at it from their position.
Tami Carswell, on Facebook, went the full sarcastic route with her post saying that, "you know that all women should only fight at 135 right now because the men at Zuffa deem it the ideal weight. The good news is they did just added yet another weight class for men so 125 is available if your aight with a lot of hormones and a haircut".
I struggle with this reaction for a few reasons. The first is the comment on Zuffa. It is not as if they feel 135 is the "ideal" weight, but more so that they inherited the division and its contracts. With nothing to suggest they can develop a strong, long-lasting popular division they are not going to immediately spend money to create more divisions. Instead, they'll work with what they have and see what the results are.
Dana has always been open about the possibility of Gina Carano fighting for him. This is because there was a value that came along with her. And trust me when I say that I am no Gina Carano fan, but that's the fact of the matter. SHE had value, the others did not. It's sad to say that, but it's the truth and everyone knows it. Despite all the reasons she was popular, she still brought eyes to women's MMA and without her we probably would not have 135 in Strikeforce today, so we can at least tip our caps to her in that regard.
The second issue I had with the above comment is about flyweights. Zuffa has been open about wanting to add the division for a few years and previously have even said the reason it had not been added, at that time, was they were waiting on more depth to added -- the exact problem Dana White has commented about women's MMA. Now that organizations like Tachi Palace have fostered that division and talent, the UFC have been able to sign those fighters and open the division. With Strikeforce, I'll agree that they were doing a bad job of fostering talent, but since the takeover they have signed a couple more fighters and that's a good sign. Unfortunately, a big problem is the lack of shows and being under a Zuffa exclusive contract. As an independent fighter you can fight more often and bounce around. Strikeforce is not holding events frequently and even the male fighters are struggling for fights and this is a big issue for all fighters, not just the women. To illustrate my point, how long did their champion Gilbert Melendez sit on the sideline awaiting a fight?
The other issue that has come from this, if I may depart from WMMA discussion to a general MMA topic, has been drug testing. One fan, Robby Edwards, posted on Facebook that the sport needs "strict unscheduled testing and witnessed tests" and to increase the penalty for testing positive.
The first thing I'll say is that currently it's a pipedream and not realistic. First and foremost there is not one overriding governing body over the sport of MMA and the resources it would take to administer the tests are, currently, above and beyond what can be done on a sport-wide scale. Every state that sanctions MMA has their own state athletic commission and not every athlete is registered in said state. That's the biggest issue that most fans skip over. It's just not feasible at this time. Fortunately the Nevada State Athletic Commission has begun out-of-competition testing but they need to tighten the procedures for it to be effective. So, we are at least heading in the right direction.
As for stiffer punishments: I think for the first offense a year suspension is just. Some may claim it's not enough of a deterrent but the biggest deterrents will come from the companies themselves. If they are released from their contracts and so forth that is the biggest statement made, the athletic commissions are doing as good of a job as they can from their viewpoint. However, when offenders are welcomed back with open arms to the promotion -- that's the problem.
OK, now to the other WMMA discussion:
Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey were announced for the March Strikeforce show in Columbus, Ohio. The Bantamweight title will be on the line. Unfortunately, the number one contender is not Rousey, but rather Sarah Kaufman -- who owns a win over the champion. This has raised a lot of, justifiable, questions and comments.
I don't believe anyone can argue that Rousey used her looks and talked her way to the title shot. But I cannot really blame her for putting herself in the best possible position for herself, you have to blame the ones in position of power that booked the match. But again, their reasons are probably justified as well.
One of my biggest issues with the "hardcore" MMA community is their view that it's Zuffa's job to burn money for their wishes. The UFC is a promotion, a business, and must run as one. And as a promotion they must strike a balance of sport and what fans want, or more specifically what fans will pay for.
If fans would not tune in, buy tickets or buy PPV's then those decisions would not happen, but when they draw it becomes a justified action because it was the right business decision. Fans can moan but yet they still watch and thereby support the action.
One fan suggested that its Zuffa's responsibility to put all weight divisions in the UFC and that's just lunacy. Dana has said on numerous occasions that the UFC, and the sport, needs the regional promotions to develop new talent and divisions. And he's right. Much like other pro sports need the collegiate level, the UFC needs regional promotions -- as do fighters. It's not on the UFC to sit back and say, "Let's start a new women's division (the weight of which is irrelevant for this). There is not a lot of talent, so we must develop it on our own." That's not how it works.
Just to throw this in here: Can fans not blame Dana for everything? I've read "Dana is just looking for a reason (to cut women's MMA)" and "If Dana didn't book that fight..." I chuckle to myself reading that nonsense. Dana is a businessman and if there was money to be had from women's MMA you better believe it'd receive the biggest promotional support, but they aren't going to spend the promotional money on something they aren't sure will draw yet. And as for the second comment, Dana isn't the matchmaker for the UFC let alone Strikeforce. That's just blind hatred towards Dana White. From the female employees (and there are many) of Zuffa I have either talked to, or read comments from, show no signs of it being a sexist organization. Again, these are comments I have read from people and it drives me crazy.
Anyway, back on point.
MMA fighter Sara McMann brought up what should be the biggest issue of all concerning female MMA:
"Many MMA fans are not interested in what's deserved or what's fair."
Bingo. MMA promotions are businesses. If MMA fans want something, they will try to appease them for money. The fans that are catered to are what they call the "casual" fans because that's where they make the money. How many casual fans know who Sarah Kaufman actually is, despite being a former Strikeforce champion? Not many. How many could tell you that this is actually Rousey's very first fight at 135? Probably very few.
SBNation's Luke Thomas has broached the subject before that articles written about women's MMA, even concerning the top fighters, draw very little in way of traffic to media outlets. And the media is just like Zuffa, they are businesses that are going to look to get the most hits. And since they are not getting the impressions through women's MMA articles they are going to tone down their coverage and focus elsewhere, even if those fighters and fights are much less important in the scope of things.
These things are unfortunate but a lot of WMMA supporters gloss over these facts and get mad about it. But it's logical and understandable from their points of view. If women's MMA on a whole does not get the media impressions, viewers and so forth that shows you where it stands on the landscape of MMA. Zuffa has no reason to sink large amounts of promotional dollars behind the product at this stage, but are continuing with WMMA and hopefully the star power will continue to grow. Remember that just a few short years ago we only talked about Gina Carano. Then came Cyborg. Now we are talking about even more fighters. It's taking time, but it is moving forward.
This should be Kaufman's title shot. It really should. But it's not the biggest fight they could do right now. They chose to put the biggest fight on that they presently could. Now, through all of this it is being forgotten that if this is the biggest fight possible right now that it'll also have the most eyes on it come March that could draw in more fans to the women's side of MMA. So, not all things are bad.
Come March we can hope for another exciting women's championship fight that will draw more viewers, and fans, to the hard-working women of MMA. It took MMA as a sport roughly 12 years to really breakthrough, WMMA is in its infancy right now. Patience is key. As long as more and more women begin training and taking fights then more promotions will book fights. And April looks to be the month that the women's promotion INVICTUS opens and it will be a telling sign of where women are without the assistance of males on the cards.
I think things are moving in the right direction, albeit slowly, and fans merely need to continue showing support and be patient with its growth.
(Orginally published on January 9th at my blog http://accbiggz.wordpress.com)