–Kenny Rice

Admit it. The Texas A & M win over Notre Dame was far more enjoyable to watch than the snail paced, poorly executed Connecticut victory over Butler. For a basketball fan the women’s championship trumped the men in shooting for sure and entertainment value overall.

Game in game out, I prefer men’s basketball, the skill level is different, stronger, faster more opportunities to score. But any basketball aficionado will agree that a good game is a good game, regardless of gender. I would much rather watch a competitive sports event on any level than a one-sided snooze-fest at the highest level.

The women’s MMA game will never equal the men, again size, speed are too different. However it doesn’t discount that a good fight from the females is much more entertaining than a lay and pray display from the highest caliber men fighters.

With Zuffa’s recent purchase of Strikeforce, there has been concern for those who appreciate the women battlers that their day in the cage may be ending. It won’t. There is enough of a draw especially with a growing female audience attending and purchasing pay- per -view telecasts to make it financially enticing.

Plus just as absorbing the WEC brought in more dynamic young lighter weight fighters to boost the volume of cards put on by the UFC, there is the need for more fighters period, male and female to fill the daunting number of events each year. And not all of them are stacked with names that grab the audience so it makes sense to turn to the up and coming females as card fillers.

Plain and simple, the women fighters are no longer a novelty act.

The women fighters have made a huge leap in notoriety over the past two years. When then unbeaten Gina Carano lost the Strikeforce Middleweight championship against Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos in August 15, 2009, it was one of the most anticipated fights of the year, men or women, and was the selling point for national TV. It was the arrival on the MMA scene for the ladies. They were competitive and talented and most important they had appeal for fans.

“Gina has meant so much to this sport. She drew attention with TV appearances, magazines, it helped us all,” says Strikeforce Welterweight champ Marloes Coenen. “And our role in the sport has grown. I have little girls back home (Holland) who come up to me and tell me they’ve seen me fight or another woman fight and they are training now in MMA.”

The advances for the women in MMA is similar to the movement of women’s tennis back in the 1970’s led by a hand full of gifted athletes, the tennis evolution then has become commonplace now.

No one was saying Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert or Evonne Goolagong were able to beat John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors or Bjorn Borg, but their skill level and tenacity on the court demanded appreciation from fans. Everyone who watched them play got their money’s worth. It brought another dimension to the sport. These women as Billie Jean King and Margaret Court had done before them led to acceptance and a generation to follow from Steffi Graf to Venus and Serena Williams that solidified female tennis as a force of its own.

Whether or not Carano returns to the cage still creates interest. And Santos has redefined the talent level for her gender. With Sarah Kaufman and Miesha Tate to go along with Marloes, there is a base of fighters now much like those tennis players four decades ago that have received publicity and have responded by proving it warranted. Smaller regional shows have been more inclined to look at females for their events.

Bottom line is the bottom line. They put people in the seats and even as Stirkeforce is now in essence theĀ  UFC, the smart folks at Zuffa are not about ignoring an opportunity to continue their global expansion of more fans and more fighters.

“I think we are a little more raw than the men, we bring it,” notes Coenen. “We know we still have to show we can fight, we can entertain.”

They have and will continue as another generation rises with improved training and no longer being scoffed at in the gym for thinking they can be an MMA fighter. There are role models in place, there are fights for titles, there is respect, there is money to be made for promoters. And it isn’t going away.

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