The night women joined the UFC

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

It was January of 2011, outside the famed Beverly Hills restaurant Mr. Chow’s. A TMZ reporter engaged UFC president Dana White in some amiable banter, asking “When are we going to see women in the UFC man?”

The amused White replied succinctly.

“Never,” White said. “Never.”

 

But as White frequently says, “Never say never.”

Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel recounts the night in August of 2012 that women fighters entered the UFC. It was at Mr. Chow’s.

Rousey still didn’t truly understand why she was even there.

White had called a couple days prior to invite Rousey out with a big group of people. First there would be dinner at Mr. Chow, White’s favorite restaurant in Los Angeles. Then the premier for season five of the FX hit “Sons of Anarchy.”

Rousey was stunned yet excited.

“Do you know what’s special about this restaurant?” White said he finally asked Rousey that night at Mr. Chow’s.

“No,” Rousey recalled answering.

“About a year ago TMZ stopped me outside this restaurant and asked me if the UFC would ever have a female fighter,” White said. “I said, ‘never.'”

Rousey’s heart sank a bit.

“Well, I brought you here to say women are going to be in the UFC,” White said. “And you’re the first fighter.”

This may not be Jackie Robinson breaking into the majors or even Billie Jean King whipping Bobby Riggs, but it was a groundbreaking moment nonetheless.

White promises it’s part of a long-term investment in women’s MMA. It’s the UFC trying to use the star power of Rousey to build entire weight classes, an entire sport nearly from scratch.

For myriad reasons White was opposed to bringing women into the UFC, even as pioneers such as Gina Carano became a viable draw for other companies. He just didn’t think there were enough elite competitors and too often fights were lopsided, which he struggled watching.

“It’s bad enough when a guy is getting beaten up, but a woman?” he said.

He was concerned the most marketable women weren’t true fighters and he wasn’t sure how much they really wanted to battle. The UFC, for all its flash, is about violence and toughness. At the level of a major pay-per-view card, a dull, boring fight would be an embarrassment.

“Then I met Ronda,” said White. “Meeting her is the key to everything. This girl is for real. This girl is a fighter.”

“Obviously she’s pretty,” White said. “That’s the first obvious thing. No. 2 is her fighting style, which is impressive, exciting. She won the same way every time even though they knew it was coming. And then when you meet her and I mean really hang out with her, you see that personality. I don’t mean this the wrong way but she’s a guy in a girl’s body. She reminded me of hanging out with any other fighter.

“There is no way you can meet Ronda Rousey and not be interested in seeing her fight,” said White.

“I never saw a Ronda Rousey coming.”

The night was truly historic. White, always aware of the magnitude of a moment, knew it deserved more than just a phone call and contract emailed to a manager.

“I thought it would be a cool part of the story,” White said.

“He delivered that $#!^ in style,” said Rousey.

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On Saturday, Ronda Rousey fights Liz Carmouche in the main event of UFC 157: Rousey vs. Carmouche, live on Pay Per View.  The undercard is, like every UFC before it, all male. Dan Henderson, Lyoto Machida, Urijah Faber, Josh Koscheck and the other 18 men on the card are serving as the warm-up act, if you will, for the ladies.