The Dynamic History of Women's MMA
Considered by many to be the fastest-growing sport in the world, MMA has exploded into the mainstream consciousness these past few decades. With its rise to prominence in the early 1990s, this art form has taken over by gaining international acclaim. However, with that said, most of the MMA fighters have been predominantly and overwhelmingly male.
Until recently, women’s MMA fighting has mostly been ignored. Even though it began in the latter half of the 90s, women’s mixed martial arts didn’t become a serious consideration for people until about 10 years ago, when, in 2013, Rouda Rousey went toe-to-toe with Liz Carmouche in the first UFC women’s fight.
However, times have changed, and women’s MMA has now taken on a life of its own. This is evident in the recent Pallas Athena Women’s Fighting Championship event hosted in Calgary on January 15th.
The purpose of the event – and the overall goal of PAWFC in general – was to promote women’s MMA and create an industry more conducive for these fighters. And judging by the success of the evening, we are well on our way to reaching that outcome.
But this begs the question: how did women’s MMA reach this point? And where is it heading in the future? Keep reading to find out.
Timeline of Women’s MMA
Similar to men’s MMA, there are certain eras and events that led to the growth and expansion of women’s MMA. And by understanding what those events were, you can better grasp where women’s MMA came from and where it may be heading.
Here is a brief timeline of some of the more important events in women’s MMA history and how they transpired.
Early 1990s, Japan
The genesis of women’s MMA occurred in Tokyo, Japan, in the 1990s. In 1995, the Ladies Legend Pro Wrestling promotion hosted Ultimate L-1, often considered the first women’s MMA event.
With the priority weighing more on spectacle than skill, the fighting had a restricted rule set that gave way to an “anything goes” mentality. After the passing of a couple of events, the show was discontinued.
1997, First Women’s MMA Competition in America
The very first recorded women’s MMA tournament in America takes place at International Fighting Championship 4, with Becky Levi steamrolling Betty Fagan via a TKO in the first round.
Pioneers in Women's MMA (Early 2000s)
There were many women’s MMA pioneers who trailblazed the path for women today to compete and be recognized in the sport. Some of these key figures include:
Gina Joy Carano is a former women’s MMA competitor. She competed in Strikeforce and EliteXC between 2006 and 2009 and garnered an impressive record of 7–1. Her achievements in the sport earned her the moniker "The face of women's MMA."
Cris Cyborg is the only MMA fighter (male or female) to earn the title of Grand Slam Champion, retaining world championships over four major MMA promotions. Moreover, she is esteemed and often ranked among the greatest women MMA practitioners in history.
Megumi Fujii is a female Japanese MMA fighter. She is ranked as the world’s number 1 pound-for-pound female MMA practitioner by MMARising.com. Moreover, Fujii retains an astonishing record of 22-0, an unequalled achievement in modern-day mixed martial arts.
2006 - 2013, The Strikeforce Era
Strikeforce (1985 to 2013), an American MMA and kickboxing company based in California, promotes its first women’s mixed martial arts match. Gina Carano ends up taking the win over Elaina Maxwell in a unanimous decision.
In 2009, Strikeforce was the first large-scale American MMA promotion that gave women’s MMA a spot on the big stage.
Ronda Rousey is an assassin. She is well-known as being among the most skilled MMA finishers of all time. In five Strikeforce fights, Rousey got five first-round finishes with the armbar. Rousey's popularity exploded in MMA when she challenged and defeated Miesha Tate via submission, winning the Strikeforce belt in 2012.
Miesha Tate’s 2008 Strikeforce debut was a complete display of her skill and tenacity as an MMA fighter. In a unanimous decision, Tate was chosen as the winner against Elaina Maxwell at Strikeforce.
Introduction of Weight Classes in Women's MMA
Women’s MMA hasn’t always had its distinct weight divisions. In fact, it wasn’t until the year 2000 that these classes were categorized. They are as follows:
- Strawweight (115 lbs)
- Flyweight (125 lbs)
- Bantamweight (135 lbs)
- Featherweight (145 lbs)
- Lightweight (155 lbs)
- Super Lightweight (165 lbs)
- Welterweight (170 lbs)
- Super Welterweight (175 lbs)
- MIddleweight (185 lbs)
- Super Middleweight (195 lbs)
- Light Heavyweight (205 lbs)
- Cruiserweight (225 lbs)
- Heavyweight (265 lbs)
- Super Heavyweight (No Limit)
There were nine weight classes in total when these divisions were created in 2000. However, as the sport evolved, four more classes were added. 2015 saw the introduction of the Strawweight division. And 2017 brought in the Super Welterweight, Super Middleweight, Cruiserweight, and Super Lightweight categories.
2011, The Rise of Ronda Rousey
Ronda Rousey’s Strikeforce debut became the “talk of the town” after beating Sarah D’Alelio by submission in only 25 seconds – further solidifying her reputation as the big bad bully of women’s MMA while at the same time bolstering the notoriety of the sport.
This event built anticipation and suspense around Ronda’s future fights. She would go on to become one of the top female MMA stars. And as a result, it would make women’s MMA a much more popular and respected sport.
2013, UFC Buys Out Strikeforce
Strikeforce hosted its last event in 2013 before being purchased by the UFC for a cool $40 million.
2013, UFC Introduces its Strawweight Division
The UFC announces the incorporation of its women’s strawweight division (115lbs) as it signs 11 women in that particular weight class. Moreover, Carla Esparza won against Rose Namajunas to claim the first UFC strawweight champion title.
2015, The Fall of Ronda Rousey
Ronda Rousey is defeated by Holly Holm, losing her undefeated record and her title.
2017 to 2022
The Ronda Rousey vs Holly Holm upset was soon followed by many other female MMA fighters making names for themselves and contributing to the art form. Women such as Miesha Tate, Amanda Nunes, Germaine de Randamie, Cris “Cyborg,” Tonya Evinger, and more all contributed, helping the sport grow and prosper in the following years.
The Goal of PAWFC and the Future of Women’s MMA
Of course, there is more to this rich timeline than could ever be covered in a single article. Women’s MMA has evolved immensely, and its trajectory has steadily increased since its inception. The goal of PAWFC is to ensure the continuation of that growth by representing and promoting women MMA fighters.
We aim to provide women with a place to demonstrate their skills and improve their abilities, all while fostering and further developing the culture of women’s MMA.
If you’d like to be a part of the movement, be sure to fill out the PAWFC fighter registration form today.