Tomorrow, Feb. 28, marks one of the most highly anticipated MMA fights in UFC women’s history as MMA star Ronda Rousey defends her UFC bantamweight title against No. 1-ranked contender Cat Zingano at UFC 184 in Los Angeles. That event follows Invicta FC 11, an all-women’s fight promotion headlined by Cris “Cyborg” Santos.
Front Row caught up with Ryan Hockensmith, deputy editor, espnW and reporter Ramona Shelburne to discuss W’s in-depth coverage around the fights and the atmosphere in Los Angeles.
Why is it important for espnW to cover these fights this weekend?
RH: There’s a legitimate case to be made that this weekend is the biggest in women’s MMA history. Ronda Rousey, of course, is the star, with Cat Zingano as a serious challenger to Rousey’s title reign. The fight before Rousey-Zingano is must-see, too, as former champion boxer Holly Holm makes her anticipated UFC debut. In addition, the Invicta card is intriguing, led by Cris Cyborg.
espnW has covered Rousey in the past. What kind of focus can fans expect in your coverage?
RH: Like Rousey herself, women’s MMA has skyrocketed into the mainstream over the past two years. That means there are so many untold stories and unexplored issues for ESPN to cover, and that’s exciting new ground.
What’s the vibe around the Rousey fight?
RS: I’ve been seeing the posters promoting this fight around LA LIVE for weeks, and there’s a real buzz in the air in Los Angeles that you don’t usually see for any fight outside of Las Vegas. Shoot, I certainly haven’t felt this kind of buzz for a Lakers game in a while. Rousey has become a bona fide superstar, not just in her sport but in the sports world. People want to watch her and see what she’s about. This being her biggest challenge yet just adds to the intrigue. I’ve always thought women’s sports could draw big crowds for huge events like the Women’s World Cup, major championships in tennis, the Olympics or the NCAA Tournament. What makes Ronda so special is that she’s drawing this kind of attention and interest for every fight now – and has kept it.
Tara Chozet contributed to this post