Strong women, volume and more: The MMA stuff to be grateful for this Thanksgiving

Elias Cepeda
Yahoo Sports Contributor
(R-L) Valentina Shevchenko takes down Liz Carmouche in their UFC women's flyweight championship fight during the UFC Fight Night event at Antel Arena on Aug. 10, 2019 in Montevideo, Uruguay. (Photo by Alexandre Schneider/Zuffa LLC)

I spend a lot of my time criticizing what I perceive as injustice in the MMA world on these pages, but make no mistake that I’m grateful for so much that the sport we cover provide. This Thanksgiving, a few things and people come to mind in particular, and so without further ado, here are some of the items I’m most thankful for in the MMA world ...

Women in big-league MMA

Women have always been involved in every aspect of mixed martial arts, since long before the sport was even called by its current name. This, of course, included female competitors who fought all over the world in many weight classes.

Yet, it wasn’t until just seven short years ago, in November of 2012, that the UFC ended its ban on female fighters and made Ronda Rousey the first woman signed to its roster. The ban was based on ignorance and prejudice about female athletes that UFC president Dana White unashamedly expressed.

Though they didn’t need to prove anything, female fighters like Rousey and many others have subsequently shown to neophytes what knowledgeable fans knew all along – when it comes to courage, ability, and martial arts knowledge, elite female fighters take a backseat to no one. In just the past seven years, many female UFC athletes have also become outright superstars and provided some of the most exciting bouts in the promotion’s history.

Though the UFC and White have a long way to go yet when it comes to the often sexist way they treat women, we’re at least thankful this week that elite female fighters are in the big leagues of MMA because they’re amazing to follow.

It’s not enough, but it’s better than what we used to have.

The sheer tonnage of MMA fights available for viewing

Maurico Rua (L) fights Paul Craig (R) during UFC Fight Night at Ginsasio do Ibirapuera. (Jason Da Silva-USA Today Sports)

There is a type of modern MMA fan that occasionally complains about their being “too many” fights on television. Those people are spoiled and should be ignored.

True fight fans can’t get enough of high-level martial arts. Back in my day (pulls blanket higher up on my lap as I sit in my old timer’s rocking chair) we thought it was hubris when the UFC claimed it would produce nine events in 1999.

We were happy to read fight summaries from events we missed because it was banned from cable on the pages of the Full Contact Fighter newspaper a month after they’d happen, or huddle around the television of the rare friend who had satellite dish service to watch events or to even catch them months later from VHS tapes rented at Blockbuster.

I can’t believe this needs to be said in a world where MLB teams each play 162 regular season games per year but let me be clear — after spending years in the dark ages of the sport, I will never tire of readily available MMA to watch. So, bring on the torrent of UFC, Bellator, Invicta, Rizin, Pancrase, PFL, ONE, and many regional events now being broadcast and streamed each week for all of us!

Demetrious Johnson

(R-L) Demetrious Johnson punches Henry Cejudo in their UFC flyweight championship fight during the UFC 227 event inside Staples Center on Aug. 4, 2018 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

American fans may not see as much of him as they used to since he was “traded” from the UFC to ONE, but the greatest flyweight of all-time is still out there, fighting, and being incredible. Johnson may already be the most well-rounded and accomplished fighter in the sport’s history, and he doesn’t appear close to retiring any time soon.

The 33-year-old fought and won three times in 2019 after losing a controversial split-decision to now two-division world champion Henry Cejudo in 2018. Johnson doesn’t have the stage he deserves, now, and he never got the respect from the UFC that he did, but he’s out there for the viewing if we’re motivated enough to watch one of the finest athletes in the world compete, and for that I’m thankful.

Amanda Nunes

Jul 6, 2019; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Amanda Nunes after her win against Holly Holm (not pictured) at T-Mobile Arena. (Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA Today Sports)

The knockout artist known as “The Lioness” is a singular force in MMA, right now. It’s been over five years since her last loss and since then the Brazilian has improved and accomplished history multiple times.

Nunes may very well already have the most impressive list of conquered opponents in women’s MMA, and she’s only 31 years of age. In addition to beating many other stellar opponents, Nunes has not only beaten but knocked out arguably the three best and most accomplished female fighters ever, before her that is, in Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate and Cris “Cyborg” Justino.

Nunes stopped Tate – the only two-time women’s 135lbs world champion in history – to become the bantamweight queen in 2016 and in 2018 she moved up a weight class and knocked Cyborg out to become the featherweight champion as well. When Nunes beat Justino, Cyborg was the most dominant fighter in the entire sport, man or woman.

Nunes followed that performance up by knocking former bantamweight champion Holly Holm out and on Dec. 14 the American Top Team fighter will thrill us once more in a title defense against the dangerous Germaine De Randamie at UFC 245 in Las Vegas. Do yourself a favor and watch that bout.

Randy Couture

Never change, Randy. (Paul Archuleta/Getty Images)

In late October the sport nearly lost one of its greatest pioneers, champions and ambassadors. Randy Couture — who shocked the world many times over by winning multiple world championships, in two different weight classes and against far younger competition — suffered a heart attack.

In true ironman fashion, Couture walked himself into the hospital while undergoing the cardiac arrest. Thankfully, the former four-time U.S. Olympic Greco Wrestling team alternate, light heavyweight UFC champion and two-time UFC heavyweight king says he’s on the mend, back in training and told me this week that he’s “back up and running.”

The 56-year-old fought at the highest levels of MMA far longer than most thought possible, and it would have been a tragic loss to lose him from this world so soon. We’re wishing “The Natural” a happy and healthy Thanksgiving this year, and we’re so glad he’s still with us.

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