UFC

Rousey joins UFC as champion

Watch highlights from Ronda Rousey's win over Sarah Kaufman.
Watch highlights from Ronda Rousey's win over Sarah Kaufman.
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Reid Forgrave

Reid Forgrave has worked for the Des Moines Register, the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Seattle Times. His work has been recognized by Associated Press Sports Editors, the Livingston Awards for Young Journalists and the Society for Features Journalism. Follow him on Twitter.

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SEATTLE

Another step forward in women’s equality came in the most unlikely of places on Thursday: At a news conference for this weekend’s UFC on FOX fight, among a group of tough dudes competing for the title of baddest men on the planet, from the lips of UFC president Dana White.

At the end of a news conference for the Benson Henderson vs. Nate Diaz title fight as well as the three other fights on the FOX card, White pulled out a bejeweled UFC belt and turned toward a black curtain: “Bring the champ out here,” he said.

Out stepped Ronda Rousey, a 2008 Olympic bronze medalist in judo, the biggest name in the burgeoning sport women’s mixed martial arts, and now, with White’s coronation, the first women’s champion in UFC history.

“I don’t feel it’s really mine until I win it,” Rousey said of the title belt draped over her shoulder.

It’s true: She hasn’t won a single fight in the UFC’s newly created 135-pound bantamweight women’s division. That’s because there’s never before been any women’s UFC fights. White announced the first UFC women’s fight will be on Feb. 23, 2013, when Rousey, who is undefeated in her professional mixed martial arts career in other promotions – she’s won each fight in the first round, each by her famed arm bar submission – will defend her belt against Liz Carmouche, a former US Marine who has done three tours of duty in the Middle East. Impressively, it’ll be the main event on what White promises will be a stacked card. And just as impressively, White announced that Rousey’s UFC contract is for eight fights, demonstrating a powerful commitment to this new women’s division.

No, it’s not necessarily the fight UFC fans would want to kick off the women’s division. The top fighter mentioned as a possible Rousey opponent has been the Brazilian fighter Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos, who hasn’t fought since she tested positive for steroids after a fight last year. Sara McMann, Miesha Tate and Sarah Kaufman – the latter two who Rousey has beaten in Strikeforce bouts – have all generated interest. But White said he offered a Rousey fight to plenty of other women fighters, and all of them except Carmouche turned it down. (“Since I’ve started it’s been like that,” Rousey said of people turning down fights with her.)

On Thursday, Rousey said she was pumped to fight Carmouche.

“I respect Liz a lot,” she said. “She’s an amazing fighter. And especially her taking this fight, it’s awesome. I told her, ‘After I beat your a**, I’m gonna take you and your girlfriend surfing.’”

It was that signature Rousey attitude – more than making some activist statement about women fighters being equal to men, more than making big news with a groundbreaking women’s fight, more than Rousey’s striking, modelesque good looks – that White said was the reason he’s creating a women’s division in the UFC.

“The reason that we have women’s MMA right now is because of her,” White said. “Everybody’s thinking it’s because she’s attractive, and she’s this and that. That’s all great. But do you hear the way this girl talks? She is a Diaz brother inside. She’s like, ‘After I beat her a**, I’d like to take her out surfing.’ She’s the real deal. She’s a fighter. She likes to finish people.”

“I hadn’t shifted one inch (on the UFC’s prior reluctance to start a women’s division) until I saw her,” White continued. “She’s mean. She’s nasty. She’s a fighter . . . She’s like Chuck Liddell. That’s what she reminds me of. She just wants to fight and fight and fight.”

Thursday’s announcement was a big step toward a major rebranding of the UFC, traditionally seen as a testosterone-fueled, male-dominated haven of bloodlust. That’s not to say Rousey will be treated exactly as her male counterparts. Reporters asked her if she has a boyfriend, a subject never broached with male fighters. (She doesn’t. “I’m really hard to date,” she said.) They asked about her recent comments to Jim Rome about having more sex leading up to a fight. They asked whether she’d ever date a fellow UFC fighter. (“I don’t want to dip in the company ink too much,” she said.)

And they asked about whether she’d be concerned about Cyborg’s past steroid use if the UFC scheduled a fight between the two.

“I don’t care if she’s sticking horse semen in her eyeballs,” Rousey said. “As long as she weighs 135, I’m cool.”

You could see what White was talking about. Rousey is witty and foul-mouthed and blunt and honest, a media darling, the singular presence the UFC needed to start a women’s division.

“This is a dream come true, it really is,” a beaming Rousey said. “I expected to be winning the UFC belt in main events a long time ago. This is probably a lot faster than would have been reasonably expected. But I don’t expect reasonable things too often.”

That’s good. Because people who do big, impressive, history-making things in their lives never do.

Follow Reid Forgrave on Twitter @ReidForgrave or email him at ReidForgrave@gmail.com

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