Quality, quantity: Tough foes for MMA women

Ronda Rousey, top, and champion Miesha Tate fight Ronda Rousey, top, and champion Miesha Tate fight for the Strikeforce women's bantamweight title in Columbus, Ohio. Rousey won via first-round submission. (March 3, 2012) Photo Credit: Strikeforce/Esther Lin

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Mark La Monica Mark La Monica

Mark La Monica is the deputy sports editor for cross media at Newsday and writes about mixed martial

Ronda Rousey nearly tore Miesha Tate's left arm off her body Saturday while winning the Strikeforce women's bantamweight title. While doing so, she showed that her talent goes beyond talking trash and looking good while doing it.

She and Tate each displayed high-level grappling skills, none of which should surprise those in the know who follow the sport. Rousey won a bronze medal in judo at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and Tate is an accomplished wrestler.

Together, they raised the level and awareness of women's MMA -- for that night. The entire Strikeforce card, 150-minute live event on Showtime, averaged 431,000 viewers. The ratings peaked at 504,000 just after midnight, or right when Rousey and Tate were about to fight.

Those numbers are up from Strikeforce's last main card on Showtime. The Luke Rockhold-Keith Jardine headliner drew 344,000 viewers -- and that was a free preview weekend for Showtime.

What sort of momentum Tate vs. Rousey can generate for women's MMA remains to be seen. Based on history, not much.

Gina Carano and Cristiane "Cyborg'' Santos headlined the first women's main event on Aug. 15, 2009. That was two-and-a-half years ago. Carano is now an action movie heroine, and Santos is serving a one-year suspension in 2012 for testing positive for steroids (stanozolol metabolites, to be precise).

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That it took this long to bring two women to the top of fight poster again speaks to both the quantity and quality of female fighters out there right now. Tate wasn't wrong when she questioned whether Rousey -- four pro fights, all first-round submission wins -- had done enough to rightfully deserve her title shot. One -- and only -- other fighter, Sarah Kaufman, could even possibly be part of that conversation. Kaufman won a majority decision over Alexis Davis on Saturday's undercard.

Correct, the undercard. Kaufman vs. Davis aired on Showtime Extreme as part of the prelims now televised on the extended family of Showtime channels. Prior to 2012, those prelims never saw air time.

Until there are enough high-quality female MMA fighters, it is hard seeing Tate vs. Rousey moving the needle much. Of course, every overturning of the status quo had its signature opening rally cry.

Rousey cultivated a strong media persona in the lead-up to the fight, as did Tate. Both fighters sold the fight with their war of words, while marketing departments sold the sex appeal.

Even after her win and Tate's left arm hangin limp from her body, Rousey refused to tone down the rhetoric "She's good, she's legit, but I don't feel too bad about it,'' Rousey said.

That's crushing and villainous -- and just the type of personality fans can latch onto quickly. In MMA, where fighters step into the cage three or four times a year, building a fan base quickly is a must. Difficult, too.

Perhaps one day, we'll look back at Rousey's remarkable armbar and Tate's ability to withstand serious pain for that long as the watershed moment for women in MMA. That day just still seems a few calendars away.

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