MMA hasn’t always been a sport that has been closely associated with women, given its violent nature, but as of late more and more women are showing that even inside the confines of an MMA cage, what men can do, women can do equally as good, or even better.
In a sport dominated by men, a number of women have made their marks and have proven that it’s no longer just a man’s world.
Gina Carano was one of the earlier big stars and considered one of the pioneers of women’s MMA. The Muay Thai specialist made a name for herself in North America.
In many ways, Carano’s popularity paved the way for arguably the biggest name in women’s MMA, Ronda Rousey.
A former Olympian in Judo, Rousey rose to stardom because of her dominance inside the cage, and is quite possibly the reason that women are competing in the UFC. Rousey became the UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion in 2013 and defended the title five times in one of the most dominant championship runs in the promotion’s history.
Rousey’s success in turn, helped usher in a women’s revolution, so to say, in MMA, as the UFC now features four women’s weight divisions, which was unheard of before Rousey’s arrival.
In the Asian front, women have also risen to stardom in mixed martial arts just as rapidly.
Angela Lee, ONE Championship’s reigning Women’s Atomweight World Champion, is one of the sport’s most celebrated female competitors. At just 22 years old, Lee has broken barriers in Asia with regards to MMA.
ONE Women’s Strawweight World Champion Xiong Jing Nan is also following in the footsteps of Lee, as she rules over the women’s strawweight division as China’s first homegrown mixed martial arts world champion.
A fan-favorite across Asia, Thailand’s Rika Ishige has also captured the attention of her peers with her in-ring talent and unparalleled charm.
Ishige credits Lee and Malaysian women’s MMA star Ann Osman as her inspirations to excel inside the cage.
“Angela [Lee] and Ann Osman, they showed the world that girls can’t just do ballet and tennis, we can fight, our abilities are the same as men’s,“ said Ishige. “It’s an honor because actually the last year no one knew me, but this year everyone knows me. I want to make Thai women, and not only Thai women, I want to make Thailand proud and I want to inspire everyone."
The Philippines is also slowly becoming a hotbed for female MMA talent, and at the forefront of it are Team Lakay standouts Gina Iniong and April Osenio.
Iniong and Osenio have proven themselves as top contenders in their respective divisions, and are proud to call themselves part of a famed stable that has produced a wealth of world championship talent.
“Masaya ako kasi nabibigyan ako ng opportunity na maki-roll sa mga seniors ko, mga kapwa fighters ko, and tinutulungan din nila ako,” said Osenio. “Masayang-masaya kasi kaunti lang yung mga babaeng nabibigyan ng mga ganitong opportunity.”
Another competitor who’s held-bent on breaking the stereotype is model-turned-mixed martial artist Rome Trinidad, who says she’s out to prove that women have a place in the sport as well.
“Karaniwan kasi, pag naiisip nila ang MMA, pang-lalake lang yun ah, parang sa culture natin, bihira yung babae na nakaka-gawa ng ganitong klaseng profession, diba? Bilang na bilang lang,” Trinidad said. “Gusto ko rin ipakita na kung kaya ng mga lalake, kaya din naming kababaihan. Women empowerment.”
Apart from making waves inside the cage, women have also taken their place in the front offices.
After retiring from competition, Osman was absorbed by ONE Championship as a recruitment executive, and most recently, they announced the appointment of former UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion Miesha Tate, known for her rivalry with Ronda Rousey, as one of the promotion’s newest Vice Presidents.
The women have successfully planted their flag in the sport, and from a fan perspective, people are taking notice.
Rousey, at one point, was the biggest draw that the UFC had, while currently, Lee is the biggest name that ONE Championship has and she’s always a massive draw in her home country of Singapore.
At this point, women no longer have to prove that they deserve to be in the spotlight of MMA as well because it’s very clear that, like the men, are more than capable of filling up arenas and bringing the house down.
Now more than ever, more and more women are taking up martial arts and pursuing a career in professional MMA.
More and more women are also tuning in, helping in the unprecedented popularity that the sport is enjoying now.
While certainly there are a handful of factors that can be credited for the massive popularity that mixed martial arts is enjoying now, a lot of that credit must go to the likes of Carano, Rousey, and Lee, and all the female martial artists who have helped in ushering in a new dimension to a sport that was once just reserved solely for men.