"These chicks can fight."
That gem went overheard at a Florida sports bar Saturday night, as it might have from payers-per-view across the land.
What if . . .
No, stop it.
But what if the deepest esteem for the female athlete winds up . . .
No, that's just ludicrous.
But what if the deepest esteem for the female athlete winds up stemming from UFC, beginning with the UFC 157 Saturday night in which Ronda Rousey defeated Liz Carmouche in a manner pretty scintillating?
Well then, that would have to appear on any list of the funniest things ever. It would be just as absurd as . . . as a great many things in the world. Any gathering of the Ultimate Fighting Championship immediately becomes a rarefied collection of testosterone. The setting unapologetically celebrates a female ideal both mainstream and warped. The women in attendance tend to be stunning (even to me). The ring-card women circumnavigating between rounds look as if they have never met one carb. I have seen sultry ring-card women at events even at an MMA event in Abu Dhabi.
Now, you think about that for a moment.
Yet this apocalyptic midst somehow has a plausible chance to intensify the human appreciation of the female athlete -- maybe even, in that vein, a chance to eke past all the Olympics and women's World Cups and women's Final Fours and Indys and Daytonas. If that turns out to be a hallucination, I apologize. It's just that more than any of those other events, UFC aims its arrow right for the hardcores, smack into a sport of towering conditioning and courage, squarely into the area of humanity happy to utter, "These chicks can fight."
While the refinement of the female athlete ranks among the most notable advancements of the last 50 years, the appreciation for it has come mostly in bursts: an Olympics here, a women's World Cup there. It has meshed largely with perceptions of the athletes' hotness -- and that certainly factored in with Rousey, a sense you get especially if you put on your pith helmet and go read the comments beneath the various accounts of Saturday night in Anaheim.
The four minutes and 49 seconds also transcended that. "The two chicks fighting was a good card," said Jay Woodburn, an owner-manager at Richee B's Sports Restaurant in Cape Coral, Fla. He knows. He spent six years deep into Gracie training in Hawaii, Gracie being the Brazilian family that invented the Brazilian jiujitsu that has fueled so much of mixed-martial arts.
I popped in to Richee B's Saturday night at the end of a little tour of sports bars in the Fort Myers area. Richee B's had promoted Rousey-Carmouche on its Facebook page in the bar's third turn at a major UFC night. "This, by far, with the women, was probably the busiest it's been," said co-owner Dee DeCastris.
The medium-sized place did not seem unusually cramped, but more than 100 did come in to dine, with more massed around the bar. Said Woodburn, "There was a lot of buildup, a lot of energy, and people couldn't wait to see the two girls that were fighting. It was a lot more contact than the rest of the fights." He said, "We had people there eating at 8 o'clock that were just going to stick around all the way through midnight."
So here was a Saturday night in America circa 2013: A crowd of 15,525 filled the place in Anaheim for UFC 157, the first UFC card with women as headliners. Rousey brought along her spotless record of victorious first-round arm bars even if she did not bring her bronze medal in judo from Beijing 2008. Carmouche came to the ring with three tours of Iraq in the Marines glowing from her background.
The bantamweight title fight began, and soon Carmouche had Rousey in a rear naked choke, for suspense's sake, with Rousey's teeth pressed against Carmouche's arm enough to leave enduring marks. Quelling that, Rousey managed to budge her chin and mouth underneath Carmouche's arm. Soon after that, Rousey spread Carmouche's arms to achieve an arm bar. Carmouche would do better than anyone had against Rousey, would lurk 11 seconds from exceeding the first round. Rousey would call it her most precarious task. Mutual respect would prevail. Audience noise for both would prevail. The UFC president's delight would prevail.
And Rousey, having weathered volumes of a pre-fight media blitz, would utter the comment that ought to prevail for years: "There's no amount of press that can save these girls from me."
In at least one bar around the country, the whole thing seemed special because it did not seem so exotic. It had a simple, big-event feel, after which you could hear a few guys saying, in various forms, "These chicks can fight." And in a sport that requires untold conditioning just to do what the fighters do, the notion that UFC might end up furthering esteem for female athletes pulled up somewhere shy of preposterous.
"I'm with you," Woodburn said.
That's at least two of us.