Women's mixed martial arts
|Olympic sport||No - not recognized by the IOC|
While mixed martial arts is primarily a male dominated sport, it does have female athletes. For instance, Female competition in Japan includes promotions such as DEEP Jewels. Now defunct promotions that featured female fighters were Valkyrie, and Smackgirl. Professional mixed martial arts organizations in the United States that invite women to compete are industry leader Ultimate Fighting Championship, the all female Invicta Fighting Championships, Resurrection Fighting Alliance, Bellator Fighting Championships, and Legacy Fighting Championship. Now defunct promotions that featured female fighters were Strikeforce and EliteXC.
There has been a growing awareness of women in mixed martial arts due to popular female fighters and personalities such as Megumi Fujii, Gina Carano, Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos, Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate, Holly Holm and Joanna Jędrzejczyk and among others. Carano became known as "the face of women's MMA" after appearing in a number of EliteXC events. This was furthered by her appearances on MGM Television's 2008 revival of their game show American Gladiators.
The UFC's decision to allow female fighters in the organization, to promote the dominant fighter Ronda Rousey, is often cited as the reason women's mixed martial arts became known to the general public. Rousey won the Best Fighter ESPY Award at the 2015 ESPN ESPY award's, beating out noted fighters such as Floyd Mayweather Jr., and becoming the first UFC and MMA fighter to win the award.
In Japan, female competition has been documented since the mid-1990s. Influenced by female professional wrestling and kickboxing, the Smackgirl competition was formed in 2001 and became the only major all-female promotion in mixed martial arts. Other early successful Japanese female organizations included Ladies Legend Pro-Wrestling, ReMix (a predecessor to Smackgirl), U-Top Tournament, K-Grace, and AX.
In the United States, prior to the success of The Ultimate Fighter reality show that launched mixed martial arts into the mainstream media, there was little major coverage of female competitions. Some early organizations who invited women to compete included, International Fighting Championships, SuperBrawl, King of the Cage, Rage in the Cage, Ring of Combat, Bas Rutten Invitational, and HOOKnSHOOT. The first recorded US female competition was at an IFC 4 on March 28, 1997. This was soon followed by an IFC four women tournament sanctioned by the Louisiana Boxing and Wrestling Commission on September 5, 1997 in Baton Rouge. From the mid-2000s, more coverage came when organizations such as Strikeforce, EliteXC, Bellator Fighting Championships, and Shark Fights invited women to compete. Zhang Weili of China became the first ever women's Strawweight champion after knocking out then Strawweight champion, Jessica Anderade of Brazil in 34 seconds in round number one at UFC Fight Night 157 where she became the first ever women's champion from China. She'd go onto fight Joanna Jedrzejczyk of Poland on March 16hth in Las Vegas, where Weili Zhang won via split decision. Jessica Anderade of Brazil, then still the Strawweight champion fought then underdog, Zhang Weili defeated Anderade in 42 seconds of the first round at UFC Fight Night 157.
The next step was for the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) to pick up women's MMA, however UFC President Dana White was resistant. He has said, "There is not enough depth to create a women's division."
Europe and Japan
Outside Japan and the United States, female competition is almost exclusively found in minor local promotions. However, in Europe some major organizations have held select female competitions, including It's Showtime, Shooto Europe, Cage Warriors, and M-1 Global.
Africa's first female professional mixed martial arts bout was held in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2015. South Africa's Danella Eliasov defeated Zita Varju ( Hungary) by first round submission.
The traditional MMA rules have often been adjusted for female competitions because of safety concerns. In Japan, ReMix prohibited ground-and-pound and featured a 20-second time limit for ground fighting. This rule remained following ReMix's 2001 re-branding as Smackgirl, though the time limit was extended to 30 seconds. The rule was abolished in 2008.
In the United States, women's bouts organised by EliteXC saw three-minute rounds while those of Strikeforce were originally of two minutes' duration. These lengths compare to the more usual five minutes for men. Strikeforce later changed this rule to allow for five-minute rounds.
While men are required to wear a groin protector, women are forbidden from doing so. Women must wear a top and chest protector, while men are allowed neither.
Strikeforce became the first major promotion in the United States to have held a female fight as the main event on August 15, 2009. The fight between Gina Carano and Cristiane Santos, known professionally as Cris Cyborg, attracted 856,000 viewers. Santos made history with her victory over Carano as she became the first Strikeforce Women's 145 lb Champion.
Ronda Rousey became the first woman fighter signed to the UFC on November 2012, and was promoted to the division's bantamweight champion. She successfully defended her title in the first UFC women's fight against Liz Carmouche at UFC 157.
On December 11, 2013 the UFC picked up the contracts of 11 female fighters to fill up their 115-pound division. The Strawweights took part in the 20th season of The Ultimate Fighter, the season winner will be the first UFC women's strawweight champion. Some of the fighters include Felice Herrig, Claudia Gadelha, Tecia Torres, Bec Hyatt, Joanne Calderwood, and even Invicta FC's Strawweight Champion Carla Esparza and many more.
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