There is a revolution happening in the sporting world right now and it has been televised.
Over the last few years, female athletes and women’s sports in general have gained greater attention and more acclaim than in the past. Where the majority of the mainstream attention that used to land on female athletes focused primarily on physical attractiveness instead of actual achievement, athletes such as tennis superstar Serena Williams, WNBA standouts Elena Della Donne and Maya Moore, San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon and the members of the United States women’s national soccer team have prompted a change in the way female athletes, their coaches and their accomplishments are discussed.
Those shifts have occurred inside the Octagon as well.
It wasn’t long ago that Dana White famously told TMZ that women would never compete in the UFC, and it was less than three years ago when Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche became not only the first females to compete in the UFC, but the first women to headline a UFC event, squaring off at UFC 157 in Los Angeles, Calif.
Rousey would go on to coach the first season of The Ultimate Fighter</em> featuring female contestants, opposite her rival Miesha Tate. Fewer than 18 months after women debuted in the Octagon, a second division was introduced, with Season 20 of the long-running reality TV competition serving as a tournament to crown the inaugural strawweight champion.
On Nov. 14, the UFC will take another historic step forward as women’s championship bouts will serve as the main and co-main event of UFC 193 at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne, Australia with Rousey defending her bantamweight title against undefeated former world champion boxer Holly Holm and strawweight titleholder Joanna Jedrzejcyzk putting her belt on the line against surging Canadian contender Valerie Letourneau.
Rousey has headlined four UFC events thus far, as well as serving as the co-main event on two other occasions, while Jedrzejczyk’s initial title defense against Jessica Penne served as the main event of the June Fight Night event in Berlin. But there has never been a time where both female titles were on the line and the ladies were given the opportunity to close out the show.
“I think it’s awesome; it’s part of history,” Holm, who went 33-2-3 in the ring before transitioning to mixed martial arts full time in May 2013, said Thursday in a conference call with international media. “This has never happened before in boxing or MMA – to have women headlining the co-main and main events – so it’s awesome. We get to be part of history. There is really no other way to explain it and it’s an honor to be a part of it.”
“I think it’s unbelievable how far we’ve moved in two, three years and this is something that I never could have imagined five years ago,” offered Letourneau, who started her professional career in 2007 and struggled to find fights on the regional circuit in Canada for years before eventually making her Octagon debut with a win over Elizabeth Phillips in June 2014.
While Rousey is undeniably the star of the show next month in Australia, Jedrzejczyk has quickly become a fan favorite and an emerging superstar during her ascent to the top of the strawweight division.
The charismatic Polish kickboxer told the media they need not bother to learn how to properly pronounce her last name prior to her championship fight with Carla Esparza at UFC 185, suggesting they could simply call her “Joanna Champion” after she won the title. A couple nights later, she did just that and a star was born.
Now, the unbeaten strawweight champion gets the opportunity to set the table for her fellow female titleholder and take part in one of the biggest events in UFC history and it’s a moment that Jedrzejczyk doesn’t take lightly.
“Like I’ve said so many times, I’m very happy that I can be part of the UFC, that I became a UFC fighter and that I became UFC champion,” she said. "That is a pretty big deal for me, for Ronda, for all of us. I’m happy that UFC trusts us female fighters and we’re going to really put on a show in Australia. I wish in the future we’re going to have more shows maybe just with ladies in the UFC.
“I know Ronda is simply the best, so I’m happy that I have co-main event fight just before her main fight on this card,” added Jedrzejczyk, who reminded Letourneau that she’s not Jessica Rakoczy or Maryna Moroz, the last two fighters the strawweight title challenger defeated to earn her shot at the belt, in the most animated back-and-forth of the 40-minute call. “It’s going to be one of the greatest fights and moments for me in my fighting career. I did almost a hundred Muay Thai fights, but it’s going to be the biggest fight in my life. It’s a really big deal for me. I will put on a show November 14.”
Rousey’s availability on the international media call was derailed due to technical difficulties.