UFC announces launch of women’€™s strawweight division, all-women’s TUF

Bec 'Rowdy' Hyatt was one of 11 women's strawweights assigned to the UFC from Invicta FC today.

In case there are any doubts about just how deep the UFC will embed themselves into the women’€™s fighting business, consider this: in a Wednesday conference call, president Dana White formally announced the launch of a women’s strawweight division. In addition to that, in 2014, the company will air an all-women’€™s season of The Ultimate Fighter for the 115-pounders and the winner will be crowned the champion of the new weight class.

That group will be sidelined until May 18, when they arrive in Las Vegas to film their season of TUF.

At that point, the UFC is all-in.

It’€™s pretty damn obvious we’re in business with women now.

--Dana White

"From a guy who was saying ‘Never, never, never’ [on women], I’m pretty excited about this," White said.

The 11 fighters who were acquired from Invicta FC will take up most of the slots on TUF. They are Americans Carla Esparza, Felice Herrig, Emily Kagan, Rose Namajunas, Tecia Torres and Paige VanZant; Brazilians Claudia Gadelha and Juliana Lima; Australians Alex Chambers and Bec Hyatt; and Joanne Calderwood of Scotland.

The acquisitions represent a huge chunk of the division’s top talent. According to MMARising, which publishes the most widely respected rankings on women’s MMA, five of those athletes were in the strawweight top 10. Esparza, meanwhile, was the reigning Invicta strawweight champion, winning that title in January by defeating Hyatt in a unanimous decision.

A hunt for five other contestants to round out the TUF cast will soon take place, although White hinted that other 115-pounders are already under contract. The coaches for the season have yet to be picked, but White said they would likely be men.

Rose Namajunas lands a punch on Tecia Torres at Invicta FC 6 in July.

The strawweights join the women’s bantamweights, headlined by champ Ronda Rousey, on the UFC stage. White said this season of TUF, which had a group of female contestants alongside of men, helped inform his decision.

"It was definitely a feeling-out process, and I think it went extermely well,"€ he said. "And this 115-pound division has such depth. You look for the talent, and you look for the depth, and this one had it."€

While Invicta dealt away the contracts of 11 members of their roster, White said he believed that the partnership between the two organizations would boost growth as women recognize the new opportunities available.

"Now that the 115-pound division is open and women can get into the UFC, and could possibly be on The Ultimate Fighter, you’€™re going to see that division explode,"€ he said. "Now the fact that we’re committed, and it’€™s pretty damn obvious we’re in business with women now, you’re going to see a lot more women. I think it’€™s going to be great for Invicta. I think it’s going to help Invicta continue to grow. I think it’€™s a positive thing."€

Conversely, the addition of the 115-pounders will no doubt make competition for UFC jobs more intense than ever. Despite an event schedule that may reach 50 in 2014, the additional roster spots taken up by the new class could push out some who are on the borderline of staying put or being cut.