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Dana White makes it official: Ronda Rousey is the UFC's first female fighter

Ronda Rousey's next match will be as a member of UFC. (Robert Beck/SI)

MONTREAL — Ronda Rousey usually is the one doing the arm twisting. Did someone beat her at her own game to get her to finally comment on her job status?

“Okay I admit it ... I’m officially a UFC fighter,” Rousey wrote on Twitter on Friday afternoon, after more than a week of steering clear of the subject of a TMZ.com report that she had become the first female fighter in the promotion’s history. “So excited! Can’t wait to debut! Let Dana White know who you want my first opponent to be!”

There’d been no arm twisting involved, actually, but White had beaten Rousey to the punch, so to speak. Earlier in the day he went on Jim Rome’s nationally syndicated radio program and confirmed what he, too, had been uncharacteristically silent about ever since the groundbreaking story broke. “Yes, it’s official,” he said in answer to Rome’s question about the TMZ report, which had been confirmed by other media outlets, but all citing anonymous sources. “Ronda Rousey did sign with the UFC.”

This official confirmation didn’t create much of a buzz at New Gas City, the cavernous downtown Montreal nightclub that was the venue for Friday’s UFC 154 weigh-ins. The place was packed and noisy, just as the UFC likes it, and what the fans saw was uneventful, with every fighter on the card making weight -- also just as the UFC likes it. Georges St-Pierre, who defends his welterweight championship for the first time in 19 months in Saturday night’s main event, got a hero’s welcome in the city where he lives and trains. His opponent, interim champ Carlos Condit, received polite applause. The Rousey news, so widely considered a fait accompli after last week’s report, was not the least bit of a distraction.

Still, listening to the Rome show, it was cool to hear White make a public endorsement of women’s MMA, something he had said as recently as a year ago would never be a part of the UFC. It’s not too difficult to understand why Dana would have had a change of heart if you’ve ever seen Rousey fight.

“I tell you, this girl is nasty,” he told Rome. “She might be beautiful on the outside. She’s a Diaz brother on the inside. She’s a real fighter. She’s very talented. She has the credentials, the pedigree, I mean, everything.”

Everything? Dana was referring to more than Rousey’s Olympic bronze medal in judo, her Strikeforce women’s bantamweight championship and her 6-0 professional record, with every win by that unstoppable armbar, all but one in the very first minute. The UFC president is looking beyond all of that. “I think she has that ‘it’ factor,” he said. “I think she’s going to be a big superstar.”

Whether that happens falls as much on him and his promotional team, of course, as it does on the fighter. But so far Rousey and the UFC have been a marketable match, with “Rowdy Ronda” appearing everywhere from the cover of the ESPN the Magazine “Body Issue” to the Sports Illustrated TV magazine show on NBC Network.

The ultimate test, however, will come not on the newsstand, the TV screen or the Madison Avenue boardroom. It’ll come in the cage. No one has yet posed a threat to Rousey, and for the 25-year-old’s star to continue to rise she’s going to need to overcome some viable challenges. Cris “Cyborg” Santos, long the indomitable force in the women’s fight game, will be Rousey’s most treacherous hurdle once the Brazilian finishes her steroid suspension. Then the two fighters’ camps can get past their silly squabble over how to bridge the weight-class gap between the 145-pound Cyborg and Rousey, who began her career at 145 but now is champion among women 10 pounds lighter.

White offered no hint on when we’ll see a Rousey vs. Cyborg matchup. But he did insist that Rousey's challenges will not end there. “She’s got four or five good fights,” he said during his radio appearance. “The next two years, we’ve got really good opponents for her, and it’s going to be interesting.”

It’s already interesting, considering that White’s dismissal of women’s MMA all along was centered on his insistence that there were not enough top-level women to fill a division. Rousey’s “four or five good fights” sounds like a UFC women’s division in the making.

—Jeff Wagenheim

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