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Can Increase in Crossover Talent Ignite More Interest in Women's MMA?

Is Sara McMann the first of many highly-credentialed women's wrestlers to enter MMA?
Is Sara McMann the first of many highly-credentialed women's wrestlers to enter MMA?

Crossover athletes have long been a staple of the upper-echelon of most weight classes in mixed martial arts. NCAA Division I wrestling champions litter the landscape of the UFC as well as accomplished Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belts who've delved deeply into the sport of grappling before ever making a claim as the best mixed martial arts fighter in the world. Impressive credentials in the amateur circuit doesn't necessarily equal success, but it certainly pushes the level of talent within a roster to new heights.

Imagine a Georges St. Pierre without the shark tank that is the UFC's welterweight division. Fighters such as Jon Fitch, Josh Koscheck, Matt Hughes, and even B.J. Penn certainly helped mold the St. Pierre we see today, a phenomenal wrestler who doesn't possess any notable amateur credentials in wrestling.

Men's mixed martial arts has obviously benefited from these crossover athletes, and it's certainly created more depth, more intrigue, and a new path for amateur champions as a career. Women's mixed martial arts, on the other hand, has been relatively quiet in its growth from crossover talent due to a few factors such as the scarcity of wrestling programs for women resulting in lower numbers that we don't really see in men's mixed martial arts.

Women's MMA seems to have a "minor league" that feeds mostly from professional wrestling "divas", as they're nicknamed in the WWE, and Muay Thai backgrounds. That's mostly on a North American level while Japan does have highly-skilled women who possess both striking and grappling pedigrees.The problem, however, is that much like the male segment of MMA, Japanese talent is largely unknown to casual fans in the States.

There is, however, some interesting crossover talent now entering the sport. profiled Sara McMann, an American silver medalist in the 2004 Summer Olympics in wrestling and three-time national champion, as entering the sport next Friday night at the age of 29. Ronda Rousey, a 2008 Olympic bronze medalist in Judo, will also make a debut this year.

Be prepared for more of this level of talent coming into the sport as the inclusion of women's wrestling in the Olympics along with more women's wrestling programs popping up around the country should add to the talent pool. It will certainly add some interest from the hardcore fanbase, but can the increased level of skill finally translate to some appeal from casual fans?

It's tough to say, and I'd probably lean toward the negative at this point in time. Sex appeal has largely been the reason why many casual viewers tune in for a Gina Carano battle, but there is also the appeal of a women like Cris "Cyborg" Santos in that it's somewhat of a "freakshow" in how strong and skilled she is in comparison to her opponents. Obviously, this doesn't apply to everyone, but there is some of those elements to the current appeal of those fights. Can women's MMA get away from that appeal and become a legitimate interest to all fans for their skills rather than their look?

Entertaining fights tend to sell, and with the infusion of talent -- I think there is some potential for that to happen with deeper divisions and more women entering the sport. Obviously, the more attractive women will likely have a leg up on the competition in terms of sponsorships and mass appeal to an audience. To me, that's unfair to those women who are truly talented and want to undertake this sport, but it's a reality at the moment.

One of the biggest women's fights took place at Moosin between Roxanne Modaferri and Tara LaRosa, and it took place on a stage that was very, very secluded in comparison to a Strikeforce Challengers card. It's unfortunate, but I think the future looks a bit stronger for women's MMA as the women coming out of the amateur circuits could infuse the women's segment of this sport with some much needed talent that's not only skilled, but begging at the chance to create a name for themselves.

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