They call it a sport for barbarians, human cockfighting, and a return to the gladiatorial games of Rome, making it all the more shocking that a growing portion of Mixed Martial Arts’ most brave and exciting stars are women. This is the first year in which the biggest promotion in the sport, the Ultimate Fighting Championship, has allowed women to compete in their mammoth global league. In the wake of the new business move, the UFC was faced with the predicament of finding ways to market female fighters. Without building a fan base and earning respect, it would seem that women’s MMA would be doomed to a similar fate as that of the struggling WNBA. Luckily for the fighters, marketing itself is one of the UFC’s strongest qualities.
The UFC quickly built itself a female star for the casual fan to recognize in Ronda Rousey, an attractive young champion with a chip on her shoulder, an undefeated record, and a knack for finishing off her opponents quickly. Though the company now had the face of the women’s division solidified, they still had to introduce the viewers to the new additions to the sport who had yet to build themselves name recognition. Fans would have no interest in tuning in to watch fighters they had never heard of, let alone grown attached to. In order to solve this dilemma, the UFC turned to their highly acclaimed reality TV series, The Ultimate Fighter.
The Ultimate Fighter is the UFC’s vehicle for familiarizing fans with new prospects. The television show follows a tournament format, but also provides ample opportunity to tell the story of each fighter’s personality, strengths, and struggles over a season-long period. The participants are forced to live in a house with one another, where they are denied the modern distractions of telephones, the Internet, the radio, or television. For the three to four months of filming, a fighter’s only jobs are to eat right, train hard, get plenty of rest, and fight their way through one of the most grueling tournaments in sports. When the smoke has cleared, the last remaining fighter is awarded a contract with the UFC.
This season, which airs on FS1 on Wednesday nights, is oozing with quality story lines. Men and women fighters share the same house and train side by side as their coaches, Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate, instruct them on their way to potential stardom.
In a world dominated by men, the women of The Ultimate Fighter have more than earned the respect of viewers. By putting on fantastic fights, and marketing themselves as true pioneers of the sport, the female fighters have outdone their male counterparts when it comes to ratings. In fights that feature women, the average number of Ultimate Fighter viewers is roughly 824,000 to men’s 639,000. What is even more impressive is that the first female focused season has consistently been the most watched program on FS1, and has also been the most watched sporting event on television on occasions.
The women of the UFC are here to stay, battling their way into the forefront with a fusion of charisma and ferocity. They fight for the same things that men do: glory, honor, fame, money, and family, but they have also had to prove themselves with much of the male-centric sporting world laughing at them along the way. Make no mistake, women’s MMA has arrived, and the female warriors continue to earn their keep each time they step into the arena to combat both opponents and stereotypes.