Ronda Rousey grimaced as UFC president Dana White approached her with the title belt for Thursday’s photo op after the UFC 157 news conference at Honda Center.
“All the people who think I don’t deserve the belt and I didn’t earn it,” Rousey said on what she had left to prove. “I partially agree with them. I won’t consider myself the champ until I win the belt inside the Octagon. That’s why you won’t see me touching or carrying the belt until after the fight.”
Begrudgingly, Rousey allowed White to drape the belt over her right shoulder as she posed next to Liz Carmouche, Rousey’s opponent here on Saturday night in the UFC’s first female fight. Months earlier, it also took some convincing for White to come around on whether women belonged in the UFC.
White said he has no regrets in adding a women’s division. He said the arena is nearly sold out and that the fight was “trending very well.” Credit Rousey’s mix of brashness, fighting ability and looks to drum up interest in this card, and become more of a mainstream hit than pro wrestler-turned-MMA-star Brock Lesnar.
“No fighter has ever fought in the UFC who has had more attention than she’s had,” White said. “It’s a fact. Going into this thing, I didn’t know that would happen. I didn’t think HBO, Time magazine and all these other outlets that never cover us would. If they did, I didn’t think it’d be positive.”
White said the women’s division is more than just Rousey, although he added that a personality like hers was needed to “kickstart” it.
“You go out there and give her this fight and now there are contenders,” White said. “You give contenders a shot and you tell their story. You have to have something to start with. She was it.”
White, however, said the division will move on with a Rousey loss.
“Ronda gets a lot of attention and Ronda is the story a lot of people want to hear,” White said. “But two women are going to fight Saturday night. One of them is going to win. Whoever wins is going to defend the title. It’s no different than if two guys were fighting.”
White told FOXSports.com there currently are 10 female fighters under contract, and that he’s inching toward signing five more. (All the fighters will fight in the lone women’s division, bantamweight.) Others signed are Miesha Tate, Alexis Davis, Cat Zingano, Sara McMann, Germaine de Randamie, Julie Kedzie, Sarah Kaufman and Amanda Nunes. Tate faces Zingano at The Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale in April.
“When people ask me these questions (about the possibility of a female fighter besides Rousey atop a UFC card), how is this any different from the men?” White said. “There are only so many stars in any sport. If she has all the accolades and everybody thinks she’s so great and she loses to Carmouche on Saturday night, Carmouche is the girl.”
While Rousey said she’s not worthy of the belt yet, McMann, for one, thinks she is.
“It’s not like the guy Strikeforce fighters you brought in where there were existing champions,” McCann told FOXSports.com, referring to UFC’s merger with Strikeforce. “I don’t have a problem with it. She’s the No. 1 ranked person also. It makes sense to me.”
Regardless of who wins, Tate told FOXSports.com, she’s pulling for an entertaining fight — one that will convince those still wary of females in the UFC that a women’s division is viable.
“I absolutely want those girls to go out there and put on a jaw-dropping performance,” said Tate, who lost to Rousey in a Strikeforce bout last March.
“They are speaking volumes for all of women’s MMA. They are representing all of us inside 25 minutes or less. There needs to be a stellar performance."