UFC analyst Laura Sanko discusses the growth of women’s MMA
This is a gigantic cultural moment. And this is not just a moment for Ronda Rousey, this is a moment for women’s sports, period.
Those are the words uttered by Joe Rogan on commentary as Rousey matched her way down to the Octagon on February 23, 2013.
The Bantamweight champion was about to make history with opponent Liz Carmouche, as the two were set to compete in the first ever woman’s fight in UFC.
Something that two years previously looked unthinkable.
When leaving an event in 2022, Dana White was asked by TMZ when women were going to be seen in UFC, he instantly shot back a response of, never. It’s a comment that came back to haunt him and he later said that 2022 Dana White was a big idiot.
Former Olympian Rousey was ripping through Strikeforce, an organization that would be eventually sold to UFC’s owners Zuffa, LLC. Rousey was undefeated and had beaten Miesha Tate for the bantamweight crown.
UFC analyst Laura Sanko, believed it had to be a special female athlete to challenge White’s thinking and bring about change.
It took a particular athlete to change his mind. Sanko told Sky Sports Ed Draper around International Women’s Day. It just couldnt be someone, because let’s be honest, there were excellent female mixed martial artists before Ronda came along.
She was the perfect mix of someone who was crushing it in terms of her sport. The way that she was winning was incredibly special. She had a particular look that I think wasn’t so much about, we want to turn it into a sex symbol. She had the look that took people by surprise.
I think back then, people had a perception of what fighters look like and what female fighters look like. When you saw her, you wouldn’t necessarily think that she was a woman who beat people up for a living. So, she checked that box.
But what Dana White really respects in his athletes is a certain air of confidence, so he knows they can carry out the task they’re asking him for.
Ronda came to him and said, Listen, I can be a huge star for the UFC. I can be good business for you. I can forge a path not just for myself, but for other women in the sport.
But credit to Dana for changing his mind and big credit to Ronda for changing it.
Since that history-making moment women’s MMA has gone from strength to strength.
Incredible female athletes have made huge strides in MMA and UFC, becoming pioneers for the sport – Gina Carano, Cris Cyborg, Amanda Nunes, Miesha Tate just to name a few.
Sanko is especially proud of how the UFC has made sure that both male and female athletes have equal share of the spotlight.
I think the UFC is special and exclusive in the way that they treat their female athletes, I truly do, Sanko said. I think part of that is the nature of the sport and part of that is specifically the UFC and how they have forged a path for the women who do this sport.
Every time you have men’s and women’s versions of a sport, they’re very segregated and very separate. MMA is so unique in the way that the male athletes and the female athletes are presented on the same platform.
Sanko herself is no stranger to making history in the organisation herself. In 2022, she became the first post-Zuffa UFC commentator when she began doing commentary for Dana White Contender Series.
After taking multiple on camera roles for the UFC, and becoming a popular figure with the fans, Sanko felt that it was the right time to prove that she was ready to become the voice of the Contender Series.
When you’re doing immediate post-fight interviews, you have an extra special knowledge of the sport, Sanko said.
In the first season, he [Dana White] didn’t really listen, because he wanted to watch the fights and decide who would make it into the UFC just based on his own perception of the fight.
In the second season, he put his earphones in and there was an episode when he texted me and said, Oh my God, literally everything you said, every question you asked was exactly what I was thinking about the fight. He ended by telling me that I really knew my stuff.
It wasn’t long after that, that I very brazenly asked for a chance, Sanko recalled.
I remember going back to my hotel room and thinking that I needed this opportunity to tell him what I wanted out of this out of this life and that I’m capable of doing more than just having the after-fight interviews.
So, I wrote him this long message on Instagram. I said, ‘Listen, Dana, I’m telling you, I know that I can be the first female colour commentator in the UFC. I know that I can do it. If you will allow me to prove it to you, I will not let you down.
All he did was write back, I believe you. Now, whether he was just placating me and that’s his way of saying go back to bed and stop messaging me! Or perhaps he meant it? Regardless, I was determined to prove it to him.
It’s not just on-camera that Sanko has experience the rough and tumbles of MMA. Fancy has credentials as a former fighter, with one professional bout to her name in the all-women’s promotion Invicta. However, rather than stepping back into the Octagon, Sanko has cemented her legacy in broadcasting
I fought at 105 and the UFC does not have an atomweight division, she said. It would take a very special fight to kind of draw me back in.
Every time I work a big fight, the excitement of fight night, it’s just undeniable. I kind of fill that void now, that need for adrenaline and that need to be close to the sport with calling fights, with participating in all the various avenues that I do.
My way of wanting to pay back the sport and pay back those women that I mentioned before, for all the sacrifices that that they made, is to do what I’m trying to do now which is continuing to forge a path for women broadcasters inside the UFC.