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UFC making long-term commitment to women’s fighting

With 10 fighters already signed, UFC hopes to add five more female bantamweights soon

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Associated Press

Ronda Rousey arrives for her UFC 157 women’s bantamweight championship mixed martial arts match against Liz Carmouche in Anaheim, Calif., Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013. Rousey won the first womens bout in UFC history, forcing Carmouche to tap out in the first round. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

UFC 157

Ronda Rousey celebrates defeating Liz Carmouche after their UFC 157 women's bantamweight championship mixed martial arts match in Anaheim, Calif., Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013. Rousey won the first womens bout in UFC history, forcing Carmouche to tap out in the first round. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong) Launch slideshow »

Those who didn’t know any better probably thought a particular group tagging along for all of the UFC 157 festivities last week was a part of Ronda Rousey’s entourage.

Four women received prime seating at everything from the press conference to the fight card, where Rousey submitted Liz Carmouche with an armbar at 4:49 of the first round in the UFC’s inaugural female fight.

These weren’t friends or fans, though. They were fighters, the next batch of females set to debut in the UFC.

“I was never even in Strikeforce so it’s been nice to see how everything works at a big show,” undefeated Sara McMann said. “It’s good to see behind the scenes.”

UFC 157 turned into something more than a celebration of women finally breaking into the octagon after years of resistance from UFC President Dana White. It was a way of the UFC showing its commitment to female fighting going forward.

In addition to McMann, who won a silver medal in wrestling at the 2004 Olympics, the UFC had Miesha Tate, Cat Zingano and Alexis Davis on hand all week. White also revealed the promotion had signed Sarah Kaufman, Julie Kedzie, Amanda Nunes and Germaine de Randamie.

He hoped to agree to terms with five more women, bringing the total to 15, in the near future.

“This 135-pound division is going to become pretty nasty pretty quick,” White said.

When he announced the first female fight late last year, White referred to it as “an experiment.” Rousey vs. Carmouche exceeded his most far-fetched hypotheses.

The bout received more media attention than any in UFC history, according to White, including heavy coverage from mainstream outlets like ESPN, HBO, Time Magazine and the New York Times. Although the UFC never releases official tallies and estimates don’t surface for a few weeks, White said Saturday’s event was trending to sell more pay-per-views than the company averages.

“The way I treated this fight was, ‘let’s see what happens, let’s see how this whole thing goes,’” White said. “And it went well.”

Rousey, almost overnight it seemed, became one of the UFC’s top draws. White never doubted the former Olympic judoka’s ability to grab attention, but he was worried about a lack of quality opposition for her.

Since getting more familiar with fighters like Tate, who escaped one Rousey armbar in a title fight last year before getting submitted late in the first round, and Davis, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, he’s less concerned.

“I did my homework, saw some of these fights, got into it and met these girls,” White said. “There’s a lot of good fights for her.”

Rousey is expected to find her next challenge after “The Ultimate Fighter” 17 finale scheduled for April 13 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. That’s where Tate and Zingano — who’s undefeated at 7-0 with three wins by submission and three by knockout — will battle in the UFC’s second women’s fight.

White said the women’s bantamweight division would begin to play out like every other weight class after that, with the champion frequently defending her belt and challengers working their way up the ranks on a variety of cards. In the UFC, women are here to stay.

“It’s no different than anything we’ve ever done since we built this company,” White said. “We put their fights on free TV and we put fights on pay-per-view. These women are talented. They belong here.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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