Women's MMA continues to grow as Ronda Rousey headlines again

In this clip from Showtime's "All Access," Ronda Rousey and Sarah Kaufman prepare to fight each other at Strikeforce on Aug. 18.

Ronda Rousey and Sarah Kaufman headline Strikeforce's fight card on Showtime Saturday, which means the inevitable story line of women's MMA and whether it can succeed.

This is the same topic that appears nearly every time women and sports collide.

But take a look at some of the things occurring in women's mixed martial arts of late.

Rousey and Kaufman are headlining a major card in a major promotion on a major cable broadcast station, and this is the second time this year.

"When has that ever happened before?" Rousey said. "I want this sport to succeed. That's one of my goals, and I don't casually walk after my goals. I sprint after them with an ax."

UFC president Dana White, the most recognizable person in MMA, wore a Rousey T-shirt to the UFC on Fox weigh-ins Aug. 3 in Los Angeles. True, Rousey's ESPN The Magazine "The Body Issue" cover was emblazoned on the front of that shirt -- you know, the one where she poses nude from the hip up with two strategically placed hands on her bosom. And, of course, White is co-owner of Zuffa LLC, which owns both Strikeforce and the UFC.

But for the vocal White, who has regularly said he doesn't know anything about or follow women's MMA, that's a fairly loud fashion statement.

"It wasn't too long ago that he was telling TMZ women would never be in the UFC and he was very much against it," Rousey said. "And to see that he's such a wise businessman that he did see potential in the women and is totally warming up to it."

That March 3 night Rousey beat Miesha Tate for the title, 506,0000 people watched their fight. Rousey won by armbar submission in the first round, making it five fights and five finishes in the same manner.

Rousey appeared on Conan O'Brien's show recently, posed for ESPN The Magazine, became the first female fighter to appear on the cover of UFC Magazine and is the subject of a two-episode "All Access" series on Showtime.

"I definitely feel, and since my first fight in Strikeforce, that women in the sport are always trying to ensure kind of that placement and kind of that spot and thrive for legitimacy," Kaufman said. "And over time, we've definitely proven that the fights are exciting, they're technical, there's submissions, there's knockouts."

So, yeah, women's MMA has grown a bit since the days of Gina Carano vs. Cris "Cyborg" Santos in 2009.

"You definitely want to make sure that you are putting on a good performance because you don't want anyone to be able to turn around and say, 'See, this is why. This is why women shouldn't have spotlights,' " Kaufman said.

Showtime has displayed little hesitance in putting women in that spotlight. This is the third time since Strikeforce and Showtime became partners where women have been the featured fight.

"Showtime has been a big supporter of women's MMA," Showtime Sports executive vice president Stephen Espinoza said. "And, without exception, they always give us great fights. And that's what we're after here."

As female fighters gain more acceptance by the predominantly male audience ages 18-34, the sport will grow. Invicta FC is a fight promotion that began in 2012 and focuses solely on female fighters. Its third card was announced Wednesday and features 26 female fighters in 13 bouts, including Invicta's first title fight.

"We've all got a chip on our shoulder and we should be angry about the lack of respect that we have received up to this point," Rousey said. "Also, women, I feel, take things much more personally and are a little bit more emotional when they fight, which also makes it more interesting as well. And you see a lot more girls coming out slugging. You don't see that feeling-out period because they're there to fight and defeat their opponents. And to make a good impression and not just walk away with a better number on the record, which a lot of these guys can get away with because, to be honest, their sport is not in peril. We're fighting for our survival, literally."

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