ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ronda Rousey got her seventh consecutive first-round armbar victory — but only barely.
The Olympic bronze-medal judoka faced adversity in the UFC’s first-ever women’s fight, but against former Marine Liz Carmouche, she successfully defended her bantamweight title with her patented submission.
The pay-per-view headliner, which took place at the Honda Center in Anaheim, ended in the final seconds of the opening round.
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Rousey (7-0 MMA, 1-0 UFC), a heavy favorite, has breezed through the competition since her pro MMA debut in 2011, and before her first UFC fight, only one opponent had lasted longer than a minute. Carmouche (8-3 MMA, 0-1 UFC), though, quickly put Rousey on the defensive after taking her back during a scramble and torquing a face and neck crank.
Rousey, whose head turned red and legs began to wobble, survived the sustained attack and ultimately shook Carmouche off her back. Once on the mat, she avoided a leg lock and then put Carmouche in a side headlock to deliver a quick swarm of punches. Rousey smoothly moved to the mount position and secured an arm, and the end was inevitable. Carmouche fought off the armbar attempt for the better part of a minute, but the powerful Rousey ultimately straightened out the limb and forced the tap-out.
“Is this real life right now? I’m not sure,” Rousey said after the fight. “One thing I had to learn in MMA is be patient and take my time.”
Carmouche, meanwhile, lamented her lost opportunity.
“I thought I had it,” she said. “Like everything, you make a mistake, and it turns around. I thought I was going to get her with the neck crank.”
The historic title fight brought a boost of media attention to the UFC, whose boss, Dana White, once infamously said women would “never” fight for his organization.
Rousey certainly isn’t the first accomplished female in the sport. The likes of Gina Carano, Megumi Fujii, Tara LaRosa and Sarah Kaufman all had successful careers before Rousey came along, but none got the UFC – MMA’s most prominent promotion – to take much notice.
However, the UFC president began to waiver as Rousey, who was the first American woman to earn an Olympic medal in judo, dominated the MMA competition in Strikeforce. The sister organization, which UFC officials shut down this past month, prominently featured Rousey, who won Strikeforce’s women’s bantamweight title a year ago and quickly emerged as one of its biggest TV draws.
With her success, which included the six consecutive wins via armbar, White ultimately added Rousey’s division to the UFC. In December, he introduced her as the organization’s first-ever female champion (even before she won a fight in the organization) and announced plans for her to headline a major pay-per-view event.
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Finding a marketable opponent, though, initially proved to be a challenge. The most anticipated, and perhaps dangerous, option for Rousey, Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos, was wrapping up a yearlong suspension, which followed a failed drug test due to an anabolic steroid and the stripping of her Strikeforce featherweight title. But with the UFC and Santos battling over a contract – and with Santos saying she couldn’t cut enough weight to meet Rousey’s demand of fighting at 135 pounds – the UFC ultimately looked elsewhere.
Although White said no other fighters would accept the bout (a claim a few top female competitors disputed), he ultimately went with Carmouche. The longtime Marine, who also gave the UFC its first openly gay fighter, was experienced. However, she had never faced anyone of Rousey’s caliber, and the champ’s 14-to-1 favorite status was a testament to it.
Regardless of the perceived mismatch, the fight got the UFC’s full promotional muscle. FX’s three-part “UFC Primetime” series introduced fans to both Rousey and Carmouche, who made for compelling TV. Additionally, while always trying to shake a niche-sport status, the UFC saw the type of widespread mainstream-media attention that former WWE star Brock Lesnar delivered a few years prior. Fans – especially women and kids – were engaged and provided big audiences during UFC 157’s fight-week activities, including open workouts and weigh-ins.
Although it’s too soon to know if that attention will translate into actual pay-per-view buys and sustained interest in the UFC’s burgeoning women’s division, the organization is now committed. While White initially gave no indication women’s MMA would be anything more than a single-night experiment, the early UFC 157 success prompted expansion. The UFC now has 10 female fighters under contract, and another five are expected to be announced in the coming weeks.
For now, they’ll all be gunning for a shot at Rousey’s title.