For as long as people have been around, we’ve been fighting. Whether for sport, for glory, for fun, or in a war, fighting is just as inherent to human history as love. Today, some of the biggest sports in the world are combat sports. Among them, mixed martial arts (MMA) stands out as one of the most popular.
Throughout history, fighting has largely been associated with men. Seen as the physically stronger and more aggressive gender, men have largely been at the forefront of the fighting world. However, in the 21st century, women’s MMA championships have gotten a lot more popular. In this article, we’d like to explore the growing popularity of women in MMA.
It All Started in Japan
The truth of the matter is that women’s marital arts competitions are relatively new. It wasn’t until the 2010s that they truly became mainstream. However, female fighting competitions have been recorded in Japan since the late 1980s and early 1990s.
What many may not know is that Japan has a fairly big professional wrestling fandom. Inspired by the pro wrestlers of the time, Japanese media put out a “Smackgirl” competition, wherein female fighters faced off on the stage. While popular in the country, the Smackgirl show did not get much international success.
Ronda Rousey Paved the Way
Female MMA competitions would not get much traction at online bookies for the first couple of years of the 21st century. To be sure, online betting sites covered mixed martial arts and boxing matches. However, they primarily focused on the men side of things. That is, until one person came in and changed the game.
“Rowdy” Ronda Rousey was the first female MMA superstar. Her boisterous attitude, incredible talent, and tendency to end a fight in the first round made her the darling of many MMA fans, and more importantly, sports bettors. To the point that online bookies made prop bets, specifically with Ronda Rousey in mind.
The judoka turned MMA fighter continues to thrill audiences to this day, though no longer as an athlete, but rather a performer. Rousey currently fights in the WWE, and has had several acting roles in major Hollywood productions. However, her influence in MMA will never be forgotten.
The Modern Stars of Female MMA
While Rousey may have been the first crack in the glass ceiling, there have been many athletes who’ve come after her that fully destroyed it. The incredibly talented Valentina Shevchenko is one of them. The Kyrgyzstani Muay Thai fighter is the current champion in the women’s flyweight division, having defeated Joanna Jędrzejczyk at UFC 231.
Mexico’s own Alexa Grasso is nothing to sneeze at either. Another flyweight competitor, Grasso is among the top 10 women fighters in the MMA, and by far one of the most popular and respected ones. Joanna Jędrzejczyk is an immense talent in her own right. Though she lost the title in 2023, she has held it quite a few times, and has even been called the greatest fighter in her weight class.