For years, mixed martial art has been a man's world. But 2013 is shaping up to be the year women take the spotlight.
Ronda Rousey beat Liz Carmouche in February, during Ultimate Fighting Championship's first female bout. And this weekend, Shogun Fights VIII will host the first female professional mixed martial arts fight in Maryland.
On Saturday, Rosanna Garcia and Gabrielle Holloway will face off at Baltimore's 1st Mariner Arena, as the co-main event on the card — an event that could open doors for women in the sport and ultimately allow for more female professional fights locally.
"I hope this will encourage more girls to get involved," said John Rallo, promoter of Shogun Fights.
Originally, UFC President Dana White did not want women to fight, thinking that the bouts wouldn't be good enough to charge people to watch it, Rallo said, but Rousey, who won a bronze medal for judo at the 2008 Olympics, was skilled enough to change his mind, Rallo said.
"She's really opened the eyes of the world to women's professional fighting," Rallo said. "There aren't a ton of women that are doing it."
When mixed martial arts was legalized in Maryland in 2008, women's fighting was included. But since the sport is not as popular with women as with men, there isn't as big a talent pool, which is why the first professional women's fight is only happening now, Rallo said.
"I didn't want to have women on for the sake of having women on," Rallo said. "I wanted to have women who were skilled to make sure they would entertain the fans."
Holloway, who wrestled and played basketball in high school, got involved in mixed martial arts in 2009 after starting to train at a boxing gym to stay in shape, she said. She now trains every day except Sunday, for a total of 20 or 25 hours a week, she said.
"I do this strictly for fun," she said. "It's a stress reliever."
Holloway, 22, who trains in Culpeper, Va., goes to school for veterinary medicine and says she fights "so I wont be 200 pounds, because I love to eat."
Garcia, 27, also got involved in the sport in 2009, after graduating from college and telling a friend she thought she was running out of time to be physically great at something. Her brother told her about a special at Evolve Academy where she lives in Gaithersburg, which specializes in Muay Thai and jujitsu. After going, she realized that's what she wanted to do.
"As soon as I threw that first punch, I was like, 'Man, that felt really good,'" she said.
Garcia is excited for the fight, which will be her first as a professional and is a chance for a re-match against Holloway, who beat her by judge's decision after three rounds when they faced each other as amateurs.
"I think it's great the women are starting to be accepted more in MMA," Garcia said. "It's an honor to be the first female professional fight [in Maryland MMA]."
Despite women's professional matches only starting this year, Holloway and Garcia agreed they haven't had too many difficulties being women in the male-dominated world of mixed martial arts.
Fans' reception is generally positive, though Holloway said it's hard for her to find as many fights as she'd like.
"I train with guys, so the only time I really am around females is when I fight them," she said.
Garcia said when she tells people she fights in MMA, she does get some funny reactions.
"People are usually surprised, unless I'm wearing a tank top and they see my muscles," Garcia said.
Rallo is positive about the potential for more women's professional MMA fights. He hopes that after seeing Garcia and Holloway, other women involved in mixed martial arts will reach out to him.
"If they put on a good show, I'd love to have them back, and I'd love to find other opponents to expand the talent pool," Rallo said.
"My goal, as the promoter, is to bring in the most competitive and exciting fights, so the fans want to come back and support the show. Whether it is a man or women is irrelevant to me, as long as they're talented."
Holloway thinks she might quit fighting after finishing school. But first she wants to have a really challenging fight — which might be the case this Saturday.
"It's not something I want to do forever," she said. "I want to see how far I go, because I haven't lost yet. ... I want to fight someone and say, 'Man, that was a tough fight.' I feel like I haven't felt like that yet."
Hometown: Gaithersburg, Md.
Fights out of: Evolve Academy in Gaithersburg
Fight weight: 135 lbs.
Record: Amateur 3-2
Biggest strengths: "My strength has always been my striking, and my parents fighting against all odds in their lives to provide for their family. It showed me that quitting is never an option."
Motivation: "Inspiring others to keep persevering through the difficulties they face in life."
Gabrielle "Gabanator" Holloway
Hometown: Washington, D.C.
Fights out of: Zamora Boxing Gym in Culpeper, Va.
Fight weight: 135 or 145 lbs.
Biggest strengths: "My wrestling background and my humbleness"
Record: Amateur 7-0, Professional 2-0
Motivation: "My coach and training partners, my teammates from the flag football team, my friends and family, and myself."
If you go
Shogun Fights VIII is April 13 at 1st Mariner Arena, 201 W. Baltimore St. Tickets are $33-$253. Call 410-547-7328 or go to ticketmaster.com.