It wasn’t long ago when UFC president Dana White infamously said that women would never compete inside the Octagon.
White eventually had to eat his words after witnessing some of the best fights in the sport take place in the women’s division, not to mention a rising star named Ronda Rousey that caught his attention and forced him to change his mind on women competing in the UFC.
Now just three years after the UFC first introduced women’s MMA into the promotion, the female divisions are going to be showcased in a huge way during arguably the biggest week in the history of the sport.
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Women’s strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk faces Claudia Gadelha in a headline bout on Friday while top-ranked contenders Cat Zingano and Julianna Pena meet in the featured preliminary bout on FS1 during UFC 200 on Saturday. Miesha Tate will then cap things off with her bantamweight title fight against Amanda Nunes on the main card at UFC 200.
"This is a huge moment for women’s MMA," Tate told FOX Sports about the upcoming fight week. "We have a huge rivalry in the 115-pound division, which I think people are loving. We have Cat Zingano and Julianna Pena fight, which is going to be a fantastic fight. And then obviously my fight.
"These are some heavily promoted women’s fights and that’s exciting just because even a few years ago, it wasn’t even a thought to be a part of the UFC and here we are such a big part of everything that’s happening. People are very excited to watch the women fight so it’s going to be a really cool moment."
The UFC first introduced women’s MMA with Rousey’s title fight against Liz Carmouche, which headlined UFC 157 in 2013. Since that time, women have headlined or co-headlined a huge number of UFC cards and the show headlined by Rousey against Holly Holm broke the all-time attendance record for the promotion at UFC 193 last November.
Tate applauds the UFC for not only introducing women’s MMA into the promotion, but giving them a chance to become superstars right alongside all the male fighters, who have been in the marquee spot for the organization since day one.
"The evolution of women’s MMA has come a long way in a short time," Tate said. "They gave us a torch and we run with it. It’s nice to see us shining so bright and just doing well in everything.
I have to really give credit to the UFC for giving equal opportunity and not taking on women’s MMA half assed. They are really giving us the opportunity to shine. We have women coaching men on "The Ultimate Fighter" now. This is fantastic. This is always where I hoped women’s MMA would go.
— Miesha Tate
As much as women’s MMA has grown over the last few years with the UFC pushing the two divisions currently promoted in the organization, Tate hopes this is just the start of something even bigger in the future.
The UFC just recently welcomed women’s superstar Cris "Cyborg" Justino into the fold in a special catchweight bout at 140 pounds and there’s been talk about potentially introducing a 125-pound division for women as well.
Tate believes opening up a flyweight division for women would be a huge move for the UFC and for the sport at large — not only for more opportunities for female fighters, but also caring about the safety and well being of the athletes who are competing there already.
"I think it would be great and especially since they’ve introduced the IV ban. There’s a lot of 115-pound girls that were struggling to make that before and it’s just not healthy on the body," Tate explained. "I think the IV ban got implemented from other sports that don’t involve cutting weight and when you talk about fighters dehydrating themselves to the point where if they went to a hospital right before a weigh-in, the doctors would freak out and say you’re severely dehydrated.
"To ask the girls to cut that much more weight and take away the IVs, potentially it’s harmful."
Tate sees this as another opportunity for the UFC to give the women equal opportunity as the men with an additional weight class to fulfill a need that currently exists. There are numerous women competing at 115 pounds, who are going through brutal weight cuts like the one Valerie Letourneau described when speaking to FOX Sports after her bout with Jedrzejczyk last November.
There are also several bantamweight women, who are actually outsized and outmuscled on a regular basis while facing bigger opponents at 135 pounds rather than competing at a more natural and lower weight division.
It all screams opportunity for the UFC to step up and do the right thing, according to Tate, and she hopes it happens sooner rather than later.
"All the guys have the opportunity go up in weight because there’s every weight class for the men. The 115-pound women jumping two weight classes is not recommended. Some girls are too small for 135 but they’re too big for 115 and their bodies are paying a heavy price for cutting that much weight and then not being able to IV up and get the fluids back in quickly can definitely diminish the performances we’re getting too," Tate said.
"I think the 125-pound division would be great and I think Joanna would be going up also. I think she has a hard time making 115 with no pound allowance and no IV rule. It’s getting hard for a lot of these girls."