Rousey: UFC bantamweight champion has been a trailblazer for women's MMA. AP/Press Association Images
TUF 20

TUF 20 finale set to be another milestone in women’s MMA

The event will mark the crowning of the UFC’s first-ever strawweight champion.

WHILE LEAVING A Las Vegas restaurant in 2011, Dana White was asked by a camera crew when we were likely to see women fighting in the UFC. His response was typically direct — “Never.”

Then he met Ronda Rousey and everything changed. Oddly, the UFC have always been industry trailblazers but remained hesitant to add women to their roster, even when other promotions were doing so.

However, in Rousey — the then Strikeforce women’s bantamweight champion — White found the perfect lynchpin to make the addition of female fighters a viable commodity.

On 16 November 2012, White announced that the UFC would feature women’s MMA. Rousey was confirmed as the promotion’s first-ever female bantamweight champion and the rest, as they say, is history.

It’s not difficult to see why Rousey compelled White to change his stance. The California native was the first American women to ever medal in Judo at the Olympic Games, having taken bronze at Beijing in 2008.

To that point, she had won all her professional fights in the first round via armbar and was clearly an exceptional athlete. The fact that she was beautiful and had an explosive personality made her the complete package.

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On 23 February 2013, Rousey fought Liz Carmouche in the promotion’s inaugural female bout at UFC 157. The two didn’t disappoint. Carmouche gave the champion a run for her money before she locked in a trademark armbar to secure yet another first-round finish. Rousey had arrived.

She would then coach opposite fierce rival Miesha Tate on TUF 18, which featured female competitors for the first time in the show’s history. Aside from the constant fireworks between the two coaches, the season also provided an insight into just how high a standard women’s MMA had already reached. Juliana Pena was crowned the first-ever female TUF winner after beating Jessica Rakoczy at the competition’s finale.

Rousey then defeated Tate at UFC 168 and has defended her title two more times since. She has also earned roles in films such as The Expendables, Furious 7 and Entourage – making her arguably the biggest star in MMA today.

The women’s bantamweight division has rarely, if ever, been disappointing thus far so it made perfect sense when the UFC announced late last year that another weight class would be added.

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The Ultimate Fighter 20 was to feature an all-female cast and, at its conclusion, the first strawweight (115lbs) world champion would be crowned.

Soon after, Gilbert Melendez and lightweight champion Anthony Pettis were confirmed as coaches. While the last eight weeks have followed the reality show’s usual format, the idea that a world title was on the line, along with the quality of the fights on display, has kept things interesting.

That Ireland’s own Aisling Daly was a cast member added to the spectacle. She was eliminated at the quarter-final stage by Jessica Penne, but will fight Alex Chambers at Friday night’s finale and can round off what has been a fantastic year for Irish MMA.

Fox Sports 1 aired the final episode of the season on Wednesday night and after the two semi-finals, only Rose Namajunas and Carla Esparza are left standing.

The Ultimate Fighter / YouTube

Esparza was the first Invicta FC strawweight champion, while Namajunas, who has only three professional fights, also competed under the promotion’s banner. Their bout at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas late Friday night will be another seminal event in mixed martial arts.

Dana White is not known for taking a backwards step on any matter but he gladly ate his words when it comes to women’s MMA. For anyone who dismissed it as a gimmick, they too have been unequivocally proven wrong.

It remains unclear whether Namajunas or Esparza will reach the lofty heights of Ronda Rousey but one thing is for certain — they are now a part of history.

Aisling Daly misses weight for Ultimate Fighter finale in Vegas