Amanda Nunes is one of the most dominant athletes to ever step foot in the UFC octagon. The Brazilian superstar is the first ever female two-division UFC champion. She even headlined the UFC’s massive pay-per-view show UFC 250 in early June, where she added to her legacy with another dominant victory against challenger Felicia Spencer.
It’s hard to believe that back in 2011, UFC President Dana White proclaimed that women would “never” fight in his promotion.
Despite their first event taking place in 1993, the UFC would go almost 20 years before signing a female fighter. That fighter was Ronda Rousey.
Rousey was a generational talent in combat sports before ever stepping into the octagon. She began training judo at age 11, and was the youngest judoka to qualify for the 2004 Olympic Games at just 17 years old. In the 2008 Olympic Games, Rousey became the first American to win a medal in women’s judo.
She made her professional mixed martial arts debut in 2011, submitting her opponent in just 25 seconds via armbar. Rousey’s second professional fight played out in nearly identical fashion, scoring another armbar victory in under one minute.
The pair of dominant wins caught the attention of Strikeforce, a major MMA promotion out of San Jose, California, who opted to sign Rousey just five months after her professional debut. The step up in competition didn’t phase the Olympic judoka, however, as she would win all four of her bouts in Strikeforce by first round submission.
By 2012, Rousey’s star potential became impossible to ignore. She had captured the Strikeforce 135-pound championship and was well on her way to becoming a pop culture icon. Despite the UFC’s previous unwillingness to sign female fighters, the promotion announced in November of 2012 that they were entering the Ronda Rousey business.
“She has the credentials, the pedigree; I mean everything. I think she has that ‘it’ factor. I think she’s going to be a big superstar,” UFC President Dana White told CBS radio host Jim Rome.
Not only did Rousey go on to win six consecutive title fights in the UFC, but she became perhaps the biggest star in the history of mixed martial arts. She headlined four massive UFC pay-per-views, appeared on late-night talk shows, starred in various movies, and inspired a generation of female mixed martial artists.
Rousey would ultimately lose her title in 2015 to undefeated striker Holly Holm, prompting a short retirement from the sport. She returned to the octagon in 2016 against the aforementioned Amanda Nunes. After suffering a first round knockout loss to the Brazilian power puncher, Rousey decided to hang up her gloves for good.
Despite the less-than-perfect ending to Ronda Rousey’s MMA career, she proved to be one of the most impactful athletes in the sport’s history. Today, the UFC boasts a plethora of female talent spanning across four weight divisions. While numerous other pioneers paved the way for the modern success of women in mixed martial arts, Ronda Rousey proved that they not only belong, but can thrive on the biggest possible stage.