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UFC adds 2nd weight class for female fighters

Wednesday - 12/11/2013, 11:50pm  ET

AP Sports Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The UFC is expanding its promotion of women's mixed martial arts by opening a second weight class.

The UFC is adding a 115-pound strawweight division after acquiring the contracts of 11 fighters from Invicta FC, the respected MMA promotion focused on female fighters. UFC President Dana White announced the move Wednesday.

"The fans like it, I'm thrilled with it, and we're going to dive into the 115-pound division," White said in a phone interview. "We're invested. We're in, as far as the women go."

The 115-pounders will compete next year on a season of "The Ultimate Fighter," the UFC's competition reality show on Fox Sports 1. White said the winner of the competition, which will begin in May, will become the UFC's first strawweight champion.

The UFC opened a women's bantamweight division late last year, backtracking on White's long-standing declaration that the UFC would never promote the women's sport. White and his partners made the move largely to create a showcase for Ronda Rousey, the former Olympic judoka who has swiftly become one of the UFC's biggest stars.

"From the guy that was saying, 'Never, never,' I'm excited about the growth," White said. "There was definitely a feeling-out process, and I think it went extremely well."

White said the UFC's move had nothing to do with creating content to fill its ambitious plans for 2014, which could include up to 50 events around the world -- nearly one per week.

Rousey will defend her belt for a second time Dec. 28 in Las Vegas against Miesha Tate, her fellow coach on the just-concluded season of "The Ultimate Fighter." That edition of the reality show included female contestants for the first time, but also featured 135-pound men.

Beyond Rousey's success, White has been thrilled by his sport's reception for the entire 135-pound women's division, which has staged a series of entertaining, competitive fights on UFC cards this year. White is confident the UFC's move into a second weight class will prompt a surge in women's MMA around the world, and he anticipates signing more fighters.

"There are some talented women out there, and we're going to go after the best," he said.

The Invicta contracts acquired by UFC are for strawweights Emily Kagan, Joanne Calderwood, Paige VanZant, Tecia Torres, Carla Esparza, Alex Chambers, Claudia Gadelha, Felice Herrig, Bec Hyatt, Juliana Lima and Rose Namajunas.

White believes the UFC's interest in signing 115-pounders will allow Invicta to rebuild its strawweight division quickly.

"I think (Invicta) has done a great job building a brand," White said. "They're giving these women opportunities not only to build their brand, but to win titles and someday get into the UFC."

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