It’s been a meteoric rise for the popularity in women’s MMA recently, thanks in no small part to the promoters who not only recognize the virtue of having theses talented fighters on their cards, but also truly wish to create an environment where female athletes can flourish in a male dominated sport. One such promotion and perhaps the one making the biggest waves within the WMMA scene as of late is Asheville, North Carolina based BlackEye Promtions.
Now preparing for only their fifth event (BlackEye 5: Breast Cancer Beatdown; Oct. 1), this young but ambitious company has made a name for themselves by adding a wealth of female talent and exciting women’s matchups to (BlackEye President) Scott Crosby’s already quality show. The source of this new focus is recent addition to the BlackEye family, Janet Martin.
Bringing a unique perspective to the table, Janet became devoted to furthering the cause of WMMA during her sociology studies at local Warren Wilson College. It began with a year-long research of the behaviors of female athletes in a sport which has a strong emphasis on male competitors. She was shocked at what she found.
“Within this sport female fighters really are struggling. Not just lack of fights, very personal, almost unsafe incidents going on… within schools, by trainers, by promoters, even with how the fans treat them. “
“We’ve got to make some changes. One of the biggest things we can do is giving them more visibility and more representation. That’s why I approached BlackEye and said hey, how can I help you bring more female fights to your card? Instead of having a single female fight on a card we put our personal money in, my partner and I, to bring the four fights to the card in June. In this event in October we’re putting seven female fights on and Scott Crosby, the president of BlackEye, and also John Husky and Johnny Buck , the other partners within it… all realized that now’s the time to create these women’s divisions, have balanced cards, and give them representation because the fans are getting more and more accepting, excited, and even just out curiosity watching and becoming fans of female MMA.”
But you can’t put on deep cards without signing fighters, which BlackEye has been doing with alarming ambition. Most notably, former Strikeforce champion Marloes Coennen (#2 135lbs.). Other recent signings include Elaina Maxwell (# 8 145 lbs.) and Roxanne Modafferi (#7 135lbs), who will battle Barb Honchak (#11 125lbs.) at BlackEye 5: Breast Cancer Beatdown.
“We’re doing some contract negotiations within 105, 115, 125, 135, 145, and 155. We’re looking at signing three to four multi-fight contract fighters per division, and also bringing in individual bout fighters to create that competition throughout 2012 so fighters can work their way up to challenge for title contention. Then we’ll just keep expanding and rejuvenating each weight class. We’re looking at international fighters, and also working with other promoters that do provide some good competition. There are some good regional sized promoters that are making great strides to be inclusive of women’s MMA.”
Within days after her contract was terminated by Strikeforce, Marloes signed a three fight, non-exclusive deal with Blackeye. Her first fight will occur at a currently unannounced date and venue in February.
“Non-exclusive contract is also beneficial to us because we’re looking at three to four major events per year. Possibly some smaller events as well, but letting the females fight outside of BlackEye helps keep them competitive, they’re working on their skills; and people can recognize that they are BlackEye fighters. Especially with Marloes, being able to fight internationally. We’re not trying to lock ‘em down so their career is limited.”
That’s all well and good, but it takes two to fight. Having one of the greatest fighters in WMMA is all for naught without a worthy opponent. With all these recent signings, who will we see challenge the former Strikeforce champion?
“Right now I don’t have a definite answer. In speaking with her golden glory trainers, they’re evaluating potentially what weight class she wants to fight in. We’re working with them and see what direction she wants to go for her career.”
Marloes Coennen at 145? Does that mean a battle with Elaina Maxwell is a possibility?
“It could be at some point. We did sign Elaina knowing that she is core fighter at 145. She has great experience; she has potential, outstanding character and personality. She’s a great example of who we want as a BlackEye fighter. In 2012 we got a lot different ways to explore each weight class. We’re at all different levels of talent, not just those with the best records or experience. We’re looking at all different levels of talent, who’s got potential, what’s the best fit.”
BlackEye’s previous event featured Olympic medalist and currently undefeated Sara McMann, who has been simply steamrolling through her opponents. Is this an inevitable match-up?
“That is a possibility. She’s an outstanding 135lber. I don’t see her jumping a weight class just to fight Marloes. When I’m addressing the female fighters, I prefer that they find a weight class that they’re comfortable in and want to be competitive in. I don’t expect, nor am I going to demand, that a fighter jump weight classes just to take a fight. We will create the best possible match up for them in their weight class. We certainly see Sara as a great 135lber, so the future may hold a fight with Sara McMann and Marloes. We’re here to create great matchups. We’re fans of women’s MMA. There’s a lot of great depth and talent at 135. “
“Zuffa is a very male product; and I’m not sure where Strikeforce is going to fit in, but we’re doing it different than they are. Our first major event will be in February. We’re looking at venues in Florida, Atlanta, and Texas… so probably in November we’ll be able to move forward and say we know the location and the date for that February event. We’re making some great working relationships with other promoters to get this off the ground. We’re vying for television contracts and corporate partnerships to really get the funding and support to solidify the women’s division for 2012, so we can have this inaugural season and give it longevity and viability; a cage of their own.”
**Fighter Girls writer, Josh Lynch, will be attending the event this Saturday and providing 'play-by-play' coverage on our Forum! Stay Tuned...