We’re all fond of making New Year’s resolutions, right? Whether you’re vowing for the 100th time to start going to the gym regularly, or you’ve made a promise to yourself to cut back on your McDonald’s consumption, we all enjoy starting the year by making resolutions we ultimately have little hope or intention of keeping.
For the UFC, it appears the New Year’s resolution was to feature its women’s divisions more prominently in 2017. At the very least, the company has given female fighters the spotlight to begin the year. UFC on Fox 23, the UFC’s second card of 2017, featured a main event where Valentina Shevchenko defeated Julianna Peña to secure a likely bantamweight title shot against the champion, Amanda Nunes.
The UFC isn’t stopping there, though. Its next card, which takes place on Saturday, features three women’s bouts. When’s the last time you saw that? This includes two women’s fights on the main card. The UFC’s first pay-per-view in 2017, UFC 208 on Saturday, Feb. 11, features a headliner that will crown the UFC’s first female featherweight champion when Holly Holm faces Germaine de Randamie.
All total, the first nine UFC cards of this year have 11 total women’s fights on the docket. That averages to roughly one women’s fight per card, an impressive figure even though February just started and I’m only mentioning fight cards through UFC 210 in April.
There were 41 total UFC fight cards in 2016, which contained 493 total fights. Of those, roughly 52 were women’s fights. That makes for a paltry 10.5 percent. Which means that about 89.5 percent of the fights on UFC cards in 2016 were still dominated by the men.
Of the 41 total UFC fight cards last year, only six featured a main event with female fighters. A few women’s fights served as the co-main event. While almost every fight card featured at least one women’s fight, the UFC did go three consecutive fight cards without a single women’s bout, and many of the bouts were relegated to the preliminary portion of each card.
To the UFC’s credit, two of its bigger 2016 fight cards — the landmark UFC 200 card in July and its last card before the New Year at UFC 207 on Dec. 30 — were headlined by the ladies. However, considering the UFC strawweight division is among the deepest in terms of talent, the women’s bantamweight division looks a little more competitive now that the dominant reign of Ronda Rousey is firmly in the rearview mirror, and the UFC is establishing a third women’s division, there’s no reason why female fighters can’t be featured on a bigger and brighter stage in 2017.
Rousey’s lording over the women’s bantamweight division for the better part of two years propelled the UFC to new levels of popularity and proved that women can be the headliners in a spectacle like mixed martial arts, where the primary audience still consists largely of “dudebros” (it’s a term, look it up) who consider women’s MMA little more than a sideshow.
When Nunes knocked out former bantamweight champion Miesha Tate at UFC 200, she became the first Brazilian female and openly gay UFC champion, which also represents a major step forward for the organization. You could also make the argument that her 48-second demolition of Rousey at UFC 207 represented an emphatic snatching of the crown from Rousey, making Nunes the new queen of women’s MMA. The UFC has a terrific opportunity, with Nunes leading the way, to create a new star to draw in a more diverse audience to its product.
However, as impressive and unstoppable as Nunes has looked during her title reign so far, the other women’s champion in the UFC might be the organization’s most dominant. Joanna Jędrzejczyk is undefeated in her UFC career and has absolutely pummeled some of the most well-known strawweights around, including Carla Esparza, Jessica Penne, Valerie Letourneau and Karolina Kowalkiewicz. Jędrzejczyk also defeated her biggest rival, Claudia Gadelha, twice.
If you want visual proof that “Joanna Violence” might be the most unmatched fighter in the UFC right now, just do a Google search for images from her fights against Penne and Letourneau. You’ll see what I mean. While the strawweight division is among the deepest in the UFC in terms of talent, there really doesn’t appear to be a contender emerging at the moment who could give Jędrzejczyk a run for her money. Not to mention, the Polish star is a must-follow on social media, where the UFC has been ahead of the curve compared to other organizations.
The UFC should be commended for giving women fighters an enhanced spotlight to begin this year. However, if it wants to continue reaching a bigger audience and become a bigger part of the mainstream, it would be wise to let women continue to lead the way.