Miesha Tate stood at the center of the octagon and announced her retirement after her unanimous decision loss to Raquel Pennington at UFC 205 Saturday night, but it wasn’t long ago that Dana White believed women had no place in the UFC.
While fighters like Gina Carano, Cris Cyborg and Miesha Tate were making names for themselves in Strikeforce, the UFC president said he had no use for them. In 2011, a TMZ cameraman asked White when women fighters would enter the octagon. He replied with a laugh, “Never.”
Five years later, MMA made its New York City debut with three women’s bouts at UFC 205 at Madison Square Garden, including a strawweight fight that’s one of three championships on the card.
“Just a few years ago, we were talking about not having women in the UFC at all, so we’ve come a very long way,” Tate said before her match. “The women’s fights are really represented very well on this, two of the fights on the main pay-per-view event are female fights, and that’s very exciting.”
After her loss, Tate said, “I’ve been doing this for over a decade. Thank you so much for being here, I love this sport forever, but it’s not my time any more. It’s the future’s time.”
Along with Pennington and Tate’s bantamweight match to start the main card, strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk was set to defend her title for the fourth time against Karolina Kowalkiewicz
The night opened with a bantamweight battle in which veteran Liz Carmouche beat unbeaten prospect Katlyn Chookagian by split decision, 29-28, 28-29, 29-28.
If anyone understands the long journey for women in the UFC, it’s Carmouche. She was the first woman to ever make the walk to the octagon when she faced Ronda Rousey in the inaugural women’s fight at UFC 157 in February 2013. Carmouche believes this fight will be just as monumental for her and women’s MMA.
“My coach Manolo [Hernandez] is the one who really kind of hit home with it, saying it’s making history,” Carmouche said. “Not only did I make history with UFC 157 with Ronda, but now again here at Madison Square Garden, I’m the first fight of the night, so I’m like sealing and opening that history-making moment.”
This is just the latest UFC event to feature high-profile women’s fights.
A year ago, the UFC held two women’s title fights on the same event for the first time. It was a massive success. Headlined by Rousey’s fight with Holly Holm and Jedrzejczyk’s title defense against Valerie Letourneau, UFC 193 set the promotion’s attendance record, drawing more than 56,000 fans in Melbourne, Australia. In her time as champion over the last two years, Jedrzejczyk has developed into a star.
“You see, we can headline the shows. I’m happy to be part of UFC 205 just how I was excited for 193.” Jedrzejczyk said. “I’m just very happy that Dana and UFC, they made the decision to bring female fighters to the UFC.”
Her opponent hasn’t been on quite the same stage, but Kowalkiewicz is just as excited about the big event.
“I think women are really great fighters, and I’m happy because I am part of UFC,” Kowalkiewicz said. “My dreams come true.”
The most recent landmark for women’s MMA came in July. After Jon Jones was pulled from the main event of UFC 200, Tate’s bantamweight title defense vs. Amanda Nunes became the headliner. In one of only two finishes on the main card, Nunes beat Tate with a first-round TKO.
“It was crazy,” Nunes said. “The day when my fight went to the main event, I was like ‘Wow.’”
Nunes believes it was a night all MMA fans will remember, and not just because of the result, but because there were two women in the cage with the world’s eyes upon them.
“This is the feeling that I’ve had the whole time that I didn’t know,” Nunes said. “I wanted to make history, and that night we did and it was amazing.”