Never say never. Over four years ago, Dana White infamously mentioned in a casual interview that women will “never” be in the UFC. But on Saturday night in Australia, UFC 193 will make history as it marks the first time in promotional history that both main event and co-main event will be headlined by women.
These women, led by current UFC women’s bantamweight champion and global superstar Ronda Rousey, are set to sell out the 56,000 person-capacity Etihad Stadium in the UFC’s debut in Melbourne, Australia. Opposite Rousey is challenger and former multiple-time boxing champion, Holly Holm, while UFC women’s strawweight champion and decorated Muay Thai fighter, Joanna Jedrzejczyk defends her belt against the streaking Valerie Letourneau.
While oddsmakers indicate the two title fights will not at all be competitive, the potential for either a spectacular finish or one of the biggest upsets in sports will leave quite the historic appeal. In honor of these main events, here’s a look at some of the greatest fights in women’s MMA in recent history:
Sarah Kaufman vs Leslie Smith
Invicta FC 5 (April 5, 2013)
Kaufman and Smith are two longtime veterans with an affinity for letting heavy leather fly at the expense of everything else. Kaufman was the first Strikeforce women’s bantamweight champion and holds notable wins over Alexis Davis and Miesha Tate. Smith trains with the Diaz brothers at Cesar Gracie’s academy. When the two met, beautiful brutality was bred.
The two went at it for the whole 15 minutes with hardly a minute of no action. Kaufman controlled the fight for a good portion by using her solid boxing and picking Smith apart by moving in and out, but the longer Smith would catch her with a head kick and nearly finish her. The back-and-forth fight earned Fight of the Night honors and was a candidate for Fight of the Year.
Michelle Waterson vs Herica Tiburcio
Invicta FC 10 (Dec. 5, 2014)
In a year that saw the emergence of huge underdog winners like T.J. Dillashaw and the UFC’s women’s strawweight division, this little gem of a match went almost unnoticed. The diminutive Tiburcio was making her atomweight and Invicta FC debut and was virtually unknown. Waterson was at her peak, having defended her belt in dominant fashion and was as big as a 10-1 favorite.
The fight was a scrappy back-and-forth affair that most MMA purists will probably scoff at due to the lack of defense. Tiburcio was like a woman possessed, constantly pursuing Waterson recklessly throwing combinations at her while on the feet and exchanging positions on the ground. In the end, she would catch the champion with a guillotine and pull off one of the biggest upsets in women’s MMA history.
Ronda Rousey vs Liz Carmouche
UFC 157 (Feb. 23, 2013)
Rousey’s second fight with Tate gets all the sexy points as one of the best women’s fights but despite a very spirited effort from Tate in becoming the first fighter to survive Ronda beyond the first round, the outcome was never in doubt. Rousey mopped the floor with her for 11 minutes.
Now with Rousey’s first ever UFC fight, she went up against the unknown journeywoman in Liz “Girlrilla” Carmouche who, to this day, is the only fighter to ever have created suspense in a Rousey fight. The former Marine seized Rousey’s back and had both arms clenched around her jaw and threatened for a submission. It was the only time the champion has been put in a precarious position. Although ultimately Rousey would overpower Carmouche and finish her, this fight stands as the only fight in Rousey’s career where the challenger was actually of any… challenge.
Miesha Tate vs Cat Zingano
The Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale (April 13, 2013)
Former Strikeforce women’s bantamweight champion Miesha Tate made her UFC debut when facing Cat Zingano, who was riding a nine-fight winning streak. The stakes were high as the winner would get a title shot against Rousey and coach opposite her in the new The Ultimate Fighter, which would make history by featuring its first set of female participants.
The back-and-forth fight saw Tate primarily use her wrestling to control Zingano and limit her on the ground, though Zingano would do her damage in the clinch with her knees and elbows. Heading to the third, Tate was narrowly winning the fight when Zingano felled her with brutal knees that left Tate dazed and bloodied. The stoppage from Kim Winslow was disputed but the fight being a thrilling display of women’s MMA wasn’t.
Gina Carano vs Cyborg
Strikeforce: Carano vs Cyborg (Aug. 15, 2009)
This was the first “superfight” of women’s MMA and marked the first time women headlined a major MMA event. At this time, the idea of women competing in the UFC was nothing but a joke in the eyes of Dana White. Carano was the first true star of women’s MMA and Cyborg was a rising force.
The fight was to crown Strikeforce’s inaugural women’s featherweight champion. Carano was considered the better-rounded and polished fighter as she managed to mount Cyborg and put her in precarious positions. The Brazilian proved too much for Carano, however, as she would overpower her and lay down a beating to finish Carano off just before the end of the first round. Since then, Carano has all but retired from MMA and Cyborg has been goading a superfight with Rousey as she crushes everyone Invicta throws at her. The fight garnered over 500,000 views on Showtime and put women’s mixed martial arts on the map.