So, amazingly, this afternoon the UFC crowned its first women's champion and signed its first openly gay fighter.
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Folks, meet "Rowdy" Ronda Rousey. She is the champion of the Ultimate Fighting Championship's first women's division. She has not fought in the UFC yet, but she's their first champion because she was the reigning champion in a rival promotion the UFC bought and is shutting down. The UFC used to reject the notion of women's MMA outright, but Rousey is so good, so popular, and it doesn't hurt that she's awfully purrrty, that the company decided to give it a shot. ESPN noticed Rousey's crossover appeal, too, when they put her on the cover of their magazine's annual "Body Issue" this year. It also helps that she has an alliterative nickname that calls back to one of the greatest humans to ever entertain, ever.
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Rousey will compete in the UFC's new 135-pound women's weightclass, and the company is going to promote it with the same fervor and breathlessness they promote the boys. The means a female athlete will headline a major sports pay-per-view in February, when Rousey makes her company debut. Rousey will get the same treatment as the company's biggest boy stars, like Anderson Silva or Georges St. Pierre. If you can find another major sports organization that does that, please, point it out. The NBA would be the closest, with their support of the WNBA, but that's it. The NHL, the NFL, the MLB: they do not have anything close to this. Rousey's debut fight will be against Liz Carmouche. She's an openly gay fighter, the UFC's first. She found out about getting to compete against Rousey this afternoon, an hour before it was formally announced to the media.
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It's not really surprising the UFC didn't have an out fighter before now. The sport, the league, and the culture around it isn't usually... welcoming. Dana White, the company's CEO, isn't exactly a paragon of acceptance. The news about the women's division was announced before today, but the signing of Carmouche was news. A good next step for the company, considering its poor reputation, would be to promote something with You Can Play, an advocacy group for acceptance of the LGBT community in professional sports. But, as far as these things go, promoting female athletes and having an out fighter on their roster are pretty big steps in the right direction.
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