Women’s MMA has seen quite the evolution over the past two decades. What once took a complete backseat to the men’s sport has evolved into women being featured in the main events of the largest promotions in the world. This is a timeline of women’s MMA history.
July 18, 1995: First-ever women’s MMA tournament takes place in Tokyo, Japan. Ladies Legends Pro Wrestling put on the L-1 tournament, which 330-lb. Russian judoka Svetlana Goundarenko won.
March 28, 1997: First recorded female MMA competition in the United States takes place at International Fighting Championship 4. Becky Levi defeated Betty Fagan via first-round TKO.
Early 2000s: Promotions like Smackgirl, HOOKnSHOOT and Shooto promote women’s MMA.
The Sport Grows
December 8, 2006: Strikeforce promotes its first women’s MMA bout in just its fourth event. Gina Carano defeated Elaina Maxwell via unanimous decision.
Cris Cyborg and Gina Carano battle it out for the Strikeforce women’s featherweight title.
August 15, 2009: Strikeforce becomes the first major American MMA promotion to give women a spot as the main event. Cris “Cyborg” Justino defeated Gina Carano via TKO for the Strikeforce first-ever women’s featherweight title (145 lbs).
January 19, 2011: UFC President Dana White says women will “never” fight in the UFC.
UFC President Dana White.
March 12, 2011: Dana White reveals that Zuffa, the UFC parent-company, has purchased Strikeforce. White said Strikeforce would continue to run as an independent promotion.
August 12, 2011: Ronda Rousey makes her Strikeforce debut and submits Sarah D’Alelio in 25 seconds.
April 28, 2012: Invicta FC, the largest ever all-women’s promotion, has its first event.
UFC Starts Promoting Women
November 16, 2012: Dana White announces UFC has signed Ronda Rousey, the first woman the promotion has contracted.
January 12, 2013: Strikeforce hosts its final event before it’s merged into the UFC.
February 23, 2013: Ronda Rousey defeats Liz Carmouche for the inaugural UFC women’s bantamweight title (135 lbs.). It was considered a title defense, as Rousey had been promoted to UFC champion during the Strikeforce merger, retaining her title.
Ronda Rousey submits Liz Carmouche.
December 11, 2013: The UFC introduces women’s strawweight (115 lbs) when it signs 11 women at the weight class.
December 12, 2014: Carla Esparza defeats Rose Namajunas to become the first-ever UFC strawweight champion. Namajunas would eventually become the UFC strawweight champion in November 2017.
Carla Esparza (left) vs. Rose Namajunas
The post-Rousey Era
November 14, 2015: Ronda Rousey is knocked out by Holly Holm and loses not only her undefeated record, but her title. This leads to a game of hot-potato with the UFC bantamweight title, as Miesha Tate and Amanda Nunes became champions soon after. Nunes has defended her title three times since she became champ in July 2016.
Ronda Rousey (left) fights Holly Holm.
February 11, 2017: Holly Holm and Germaine de Randamie compete for the inaugural UFC women’s featherweight title. De Randamie won a controversial unanimous decision to claim the title.
July 29, 2017: Cris Cyborg defeats Tonya Evinger to become the UFC women’s featherweight queen. De Randamie was stripped of the title for refusing to fight Cyborg, so the belt was vacant. Many saw Cyborg as the best featherweight on the planet. She still holds the belt today.
Cris Cyborg, the UFC featherweight champ.
December 1, 2017: Nicco Montano defeats Roxanne Modafferi to become the UFC’s first flyweight (125 lbs.) world champion. The UFC had dedicated a season of The Ultimate Fighter to a tournament to determine its first flyweight champ. Flyweight became the UFC’s fourth women’s promotion.
Nicco Montano becomes the UFC flyweight champion.
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