Brydon on UFC: Ladies showing they belong

Ronda Rousey picked up the first win in the UFC's women's division. (AP)

Two fights, two finishes.

The UFC’s women’s division has gone 2-for-2 in terms of exciting fights after Cat Zingano stopped Miesha Tate in the third round of their bout at Saturday’s TUF 17 finale with a well-timed execution of knees. It’s a good sign for a division that UFC president Dana White once said wasn’t deep enough to showcase in the top MMA promotion.

Okay, so it’s a very small sample size, and there’s still a ways to go before we can start calling the UFC’s foray into female fights a resounding success. But after Ronda Rousey’s debut in February — which ended in scripted fashion with a first-round armbar of Liz Carmouche — blew former pay-per-view heavyweight Brock Lesnar “out of the water” (according to White), Zingano and Tate showed that the Rowdy one isn’t the only gal who can bang.

It has been a great set-up for the upcoming new season of The Ultimate Fighter, which for the first time will feature women fighters and will now be coached by Rousey and Zingano. While many might have been hoping that Tate had won Saturday so that she and the UFC champion could renew their heated rivalry, Zingano is well spoken and will provide a new challenger for Rousey we haven’t seen before.

In fact the matchup might be a better one. When the 7-0 Rousey and 8-0 Zingano meet it will be only the second UFC championship bout between two undefeated fighters after Rashad Evans (13-0-1 at the time) defended his light-heavyweight belt against Lyoto Machida (14-0) at UFC 98 in May 2009. Rousey believes that’s one of the things that will make TUF 18 intriguing (among other things….)

The first two women’s bouts in the Octagon have also provided a good setup for a whole slate of women’s bantamweight fights coming down the pipe. Two of the next PPVs will feature ladies, with undefeated Olympian Sara McMann meeting Sheila Gaff at next weekend’s UFC 159 in Las Vegas and Port Colborne, Ont.’s Alexis Davis taking on Rosi Sexton at UFC 161 in Winnipeg in the first female fight in Canada — and first featuring a Canadian.

It could also lead to the growth of women’s MMA in terms of new divisions beyond just 135 pounds. White has said he anticipates more to be added down the line just as the men’s classes have grown to the eight that the UFC currently has.

Prior to the TUF 17 finale, I said that the Zingano-Tate fight was the one I was actually most looking forward to on the card, not just because of the high stakes riding on the matchup but also the skills that I was hoping they would display. Indeed, Tate showed her wrestling ability and tenacity, while Zingano showed off her striking arsenal, even if it took her a little longer than necessary.

As far as the stoppage goes, I had no problem with it, and neither did White, despite what Tate says. In fact, I didn’t really see much of controversy. At first it seemed that referee Kim Winslow may have jumped in a bit quickly and Tate could have continued. But on replay Tate absorbed at least four or five undefended blows to the head and then went down. Winslow was right to stop it and I can’t see any reason to complain about it.

Meanwhile, there was a screenshot that seemed to show that an earlier knee by Zingano may have been illegal because it appeared to land while Tate’s fingers were still touching the mat (making her grounded). But I watched it on replay frame by frame and while my PVR isn’t perfect, in my opinion the knee contact occurs a split second after her fingertips come off the mat. But the very fact that it’s stirring up just as much controversy as any men’s fight typically does is an indication that women’s bouts belong just fine. (After all, it’s not truly MMA unless we’re complaining about the officiating!)

It’s also worth noting that interest on the reality show was fairly strong as 50 women showed up on Monday to try out for a spot on TUF 18, leading White to compare the experience to the first edition of the show. Eventually, two finalists will meet to determine the first ever female “Ultimate Fighter” — giving them the chance to be the women’s version of Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar, which has been widely credited as being the catalyst for the growth of mainstream MMA. They could do the same for women’s MMA, if Rousey isn’t already doing that.

While women’s fights are still few and slightly far between, expect that frequency to rise. There was a time when White wasn’t a believer in women in Octagon; he’s nothing short of a major fan now.

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