As I always say, a true warrior is not defined by gender or physical abilities. It has nothing to do with what you are but everything to do with who you are. A warrior is an individual that rises up when the majority expects them to fall. A warrior is a competitor that continues to push forward in spite of the public’s doubt and doesn’t stop pushing until they get what they want. When it comes to combat sports, women have always been considered inferior in comparison to their male counterparts despite the fact that many female fighters have been known to out-perform the men on many ocassions.
After years of hard work and dedication, women are finally getting the opportunity to fight in the UFC in 2013. As much as UFC President Dana White credits champion Ronda Rousey for bringing women into the Octagon, Rousey wasn’t the only athlete that made strides for the women’s side of MMA in 2012.
Over the past week, you have been voting for who you believe should be recognized for their efforts and accomplishments this year. I have counted and tallied up those votes and we have determined the winners of the BJPenn.com 2012 Women’s MMA Awards below.
Fighter of the Year: Ronda Rousey
This was a no-brainer and I would have been very surprised if the fans didn’t choose Rousey for this category. Love her or hate her, Rousey is the reason why women are getting an opportunity to fight for the UFC in 2013. A former Olympic bronze medalist in Judo, Rousey has accomplished more in one year than the average fighter does in five. In 2012, she dethroned Miesha Tate to claim the Strikeforce bantamweight crown and did the exact same thing to former champion Sarah Kaufman in her first title defense. Tate and Kaufman are two elite fighters in the 135-lbs division and Rousey stopped both of them in the first round. Point blank, Rousey became one of the biggest stars in MMA and turned one of WMMA’s biggest critics, UFC President Dana White, into a fan.
Runner up- Miesha Tate
Fight of the Year: Miesha Tate vs. Julie Kedzie (Strikeforce: Rousey vs. Kaufman)
After losing her championship to Rousey, Tate was fired up and on a mission to work her way back into the mix and get her belt back. She didn’t want an easy fight and she certainly didn’t get one against tough veteran Julie Kedzie in August. A Jackson-Winkeljohn product, Kedzie has been competing since 2004 and was hungry to branch out as a top contender. A victory over a former champ in Tate would have likely propelled Kedzie into number one contender status. These two fought tooth and nail for three rounds before Tate finished Kedzie with an armbar with a little less than two minutes left in the fight. This was the first female fight that White publicly praised that didn’t involve Rousey.
Runner up- Kaitlin Young vs. Leslie Smith (Invicta FC 1)
Story of the Year: Invicta Fighting Championships generates massive online audience through three free events
While a majority of the buzz for WMMA has been centered around Rousey, it was the Invicta Fighting Championships that gave female fighters in several different weight divisions the ultimate platform to perform on in 2012. Founded in 2012 by President/CEO Shannon Knapp and match maker Janet Martin, Invicta FC streamed three live events completely free of charge over the course of the year. Out of the 39 total fights that the company produced, 28 of them have been finishes and all of them have been thrilling.
For their inaugural show in April, Knapp confirmed that their live stream generated 233,580 total hits. She would not confirm the exact number for her second and third show but said that the number was over 300,000 for July and even larger for their October event. That is an unbelievable feat considering UFC Facebook prelims don’t even generate that many hits. Some of WMMA’s biggest doubters have always ignorantly said “there aren’t enough girls to make a division” and in 2012 Invicta FC proved that there are enough talented fighters to form multiple different divisions.
Runner up- Ronda Rousey becomes first woman to hold a UFC title
Role Model of the Year: Julie Kedzie
A great role model is an individual that any parent would want their child to emulate and look up to. I don’t have any kids myself but if I had a daughter I would want her to have a positive role model like Kedzie. Debuting in MMA nearly nine years ago at Hook N’ Shoot , Kedzie has competed against a who’s who of top female talent such as Shayna Baszler, Gina Carano and Tara La Rosa. She started her career during a time when female fighters were given very little, if any, respect from the MMA community but that never once stopped her from losing her passion for the sport. In 2012, Kedzie fought only once, a submission loss to Tate but, as you read from the above categories, that was voted as the fight of the year.
Being a role model, however, is not only about winning fights. Kedzie was hand picked by Knapp to commentate alongside Mauro Renallo and “King Mo” Lawal for Invicta FC. When listening to Kedzie analyze the sport, you listen to an extremely passionate and intelligent person and to me that is what makes Kedzie a fantastic role model for young women. She is also known for being a great instructor for young children at Jackson’s MMA in Albuquerque alongside Michelle “Karate Hottie” Waterson.
Runner up- Miesha Tate
Knockout of the Year: Veronica Rothenhausler KO’s Ashlee Evans (Tuff N’ Uff FestiBrawl 2)
Five seconds… five seconds is all is took for undefeated amateur fighter Veronica Roethenhausler to knock out Ashlee Evans-Smith. Nicknamed “The Heart Breaker”, Roethenhausler trains out of Team Alpha Male alongside Urijah Faber, Chad Mendes and Joseph Benavidez. There isn’t much left to say about this knock out other than it was vicious, quick and gained a ton of hits on the internet. It was even aired on an episode of “MMA Live” on HD Net/AXS TV. To watch the knockout of the year, click here.
Runner up- Joanne Calderwood KO’s Ashley Cummins
Submission of the Year: Ronda Rousey arm bars Miesha Tate (Strikeforce: Rousey vs. Tate)
This was the fight that elevated Rousey from a hyped up prospect to an MMA champion and superstar. Despite her undefeated status, Tate didn’t feel that Rousey deserved a shot at her title considering all of Rousey’s wins came at 145 lbs not 135 lbs. There was a ridiculous amount of bad blood between the two leading up to the fight and still to this day. Tate is one of the best female grapplers in MMA, she had never been submitted prior to Rousey snapping her arm and in all likelihood won’t get submitted by anyone else anytime soon. This was a huge notch on Rousey’s resume and very fitting that it is the submission of the year.
Runner up- Jessica Eye arm triangle chokes Zoila Gurgel (Bellator 83)
Brand of the Year: Cage Candy
Beating both Invicta FC and FightChix in the votes, Cage Candy and their legion of fans have made their presence known in 2012. Founded in 2008 by Tracy Tate, Cage Candy provides MMA apparel for women with an innovative brand that compliments a woman’s inner strength. Tate is a single mother of three and a grandmother but you wouldn’t be able to tell from looking at her as she looks young and beautiful. The brand’s motto “Fight your Fight” encourages people to fight back despite life’s challenges and to overcome any obstacle put in front of you. The brand has even branched out globally with Cage Candy Brazil and has their eyes set on spreading their mission to the rest of the world.
Runner up- Invicta Fighting Championships
Best Contribution to Women’s MMA of 2012: Shannon Knapp (Invicta FC President/CEO)
A former Strikeforce executive, Knapp took Women’s MMA to an entirely new level with the founding of Invicta FC. Every promoter has their own way of running things but it is very refreshing to see someone as respectful and intelligent as Knapp leading an organization. Many people expected an all-women’s promotion to quickly fall and burn but Knapp, her staff and the athletes have turned Invicta FC into a very popular online brand in a very short period of time. As much as Rousey is to attribute to WMMA’s rapid rise in 2012, Knapp is equally responsible and every female fighter should thank her for what she has built.
Runner up- Ronda Rousey (UFC Women’s bantamweight champion)
Broadcaster of the Year: Julie Kedzie (Invicta FC)
Kedzie might not be as big of a name as Rousey or Tate but she did just become the first to win three awards here. This was actually very close between her and her colleague Mauro Renallo but in the end Kedzie won by four votes. Like I said before, Kedzie is able to take her passion and experience in the sport and put it towards her commentary in a way that few can mimic. She could easily make a career out of broadcasting when she decides to step away from fighting.
Runner up- Mauro Renallo (Invicta FC/Strikeforce)
Newcomer of the Year: Jocelyn Lybarger
Making her pro debut in 2012 with a unanimous decision victory over Cheryl Chan at Invicta FC 2, Lybarger instantly became the talk of the town among WMMA pundits. A former Tuff N’ Uff 125 lbs champion, Lybarger’s dangerous blend of powerful striking and versatile ground game make her one of the top prospects in the division. Look for her to go on a massive winning streak in 2013.
Runner up: Jessamyn Duke
Who to Watch in 2013: Felice Herrig
With three straight wins in 2012, Herrig enters 2013 primed to become a top contender in the straw weight division. A hard working member of Team Curran, Herrig rapidly improves every day and it is evident with each of her performances. Her technique is sharpening, her cardio is through the roof but perhaps most importantly her hunger is increasing. She wants to be the best in the world and she’s tired of hearing people talk about her looks. She’s a beautiful woman but she is a ferocious fighter and we could very well see her end 2013 as a champion. In the unified women’s MMA rankings, she is currently ranked at number 8, look for her to continue the climb throughout the year.
Runner up- Jodie Esquibel
Ring Girl of the Year: Jennifer Swift
Not only did Swift utterly dominate the votes in this category but she also had more votes than anyone else in any other category and that also includes any category that Rousey was nominated in. Her army of fans known as The J-Swift Nation completely bombarded my email with votes. Even some of the sport’s top stars such as Cung Le and UFC Hall of Famer Royce Gracie were encouraging fans to vote for her. In 2012, Swift worked as a ring girl for various different promotions including Invicta FC, Pro Elite and the Arizona based Coalition of Combat. If I were in White’s position I would hire her immediately because she has a fan base that is equivalent to, if not larger, than the current Octagon girls in the UFC. I have a feeling we will be seeing her on a much larger stage in 2013 and I wouldn’t be surprised if she became a major superstar by the end of the year.
Runner up- Shannon Ihrke
Amateur Fighter of the Year: Erin McDougall
I’ve known McDougall for years and I am not surprised at all that she has won this award. She has a very down to earth, loveable personality and a pretty impressive fan base for an amateur fighter. Based in Canada, McDougall spent a large portion of 2012 in Albuquerque, New Mexico training with Greg Jackson and his legion of fighters. She absolutely destroyed Staci Vega at the Jackson’s MMA Series in June and followed up with a decision win over Dee Nodarse at King of the Cage in September. McDougall is looking to make her pro debut in 2013 and I believe she would be a great addition to the Invicta FC roster.
Runner up-Veronica RoethenhauslerTags: Awards, Best of 2012, featured, invicta fc, MMA NEWS, Ronda Rousey, Shannon Knapp, WMMA