Women's MMA Comes of Age

By Jim Genia

Not so long ago, you never in a million years would have thought that a UFC event would be headlined by a pair of female fighters. Not so long ago, you never would have dreamed that there’d be female MMA fighters starring in feature films, or that there’d be an organization featuring only female competitors, or that a particular female UFC champ would command a salary greater than some of her male champion counterparts. No, back when the sport was so new it wasn’t even on SpikeTV yet, to even witness two ladies duking it out wearing four-ounce gloves in a cage was a rarity of almost “freakshow” quality.

If the birth of MMA in the United States can be attributed to the first UFC airing on pay-per-view in 1993. The birth of women’s MMA is a far more nebulous thing. Was the first female bout at a regional show called Extreme Challenge in Salt Lake City back in 1998? Was it at an Indiana promotion called HookNShoot? A Hawaiian event called Superbrawl? Since minor league MMA results were only sparingly recorded prior to 2001, no one really knows for sure—but almost everyone agrees the first best female mixed martial artist was Jennifer Howe.

The Utah native fought in auditoriums and casinos everywhere from Iowa to South Dakota and Florida to Alaska, and went undefeated for almost six years. She ran into a brick wall named Roxanne Modafferi in 2004, but until then, even though no organization was really crowning female champs, Howe was considered the best. 

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