meisha-tate-20.jpg(This story appeared in today’s edition of USA TODAY.)

The first time two women fought in the UFC octagon, it was cause for an all-out media blitz by the world’s largest MMA promotion. The second time felt more like just another fight — only better.

At The Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale in Las Vegas, undefeated bantamweight Cat Zingano (8-0 MMA, 1-0 UFC) came from behind to beat former Strikeforce champion Miesha Tate (13-4 MMA, 0-1 UFC) by third-round TKO in easily the most exciting and brutal bout on the 12-fight card.

The UFC deemed Zingano and Tate worthy of $50,000 “Fight of the Night” bonuses, and fans were reminded why female MMA fighters have a reputation for stealing the show in a male-dominated sport.

But now that the UFC’s experiment with women’s MMA is off to such an auspicious start, it’s hard not to wonder why it took so long.

For years UFC President Dana White complained that there wasn’t enough depth in women’s MMA. Then he met current UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, and her potential to become an instant superstar convinced him that maybe depth wasn’t so important after all.

But as Zingano and Tate demonstrated Saturday, there might be more talent in the women’s division than White realized.

That revelation couldn’t come at a better time for the UFC, which has struggled recently to hold fight cards together through the strain of last-minute injuries and a demanding TV schedule. To keep pace without diluting the quality of its events, the UFC needs a new source of stars.

That’s where the women come in, or at least where they should. Women’s MMA offers the perfect untapped resource.

In the next three months, at least two more women’s bouts are slated for UFC fight cards. If they prove to be anywhere near as exciting as Zingano-Tate, the organization might wish it had booked more of them.

The UFC is a late adopter of women’s MMA. Competitors have been featuring female fights for years, but the UFC was reluctant to get into the business until it seemed all but unavoidable.

Now that female fighters are starting to make their impact felt in the cage, it seems like the UFC needs them as much as they need it.

It took too long for White and the UFC to see the potential in women’s MMA. They have some catching up to do.

For complete coverage of The Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale, stay tuned to the UFC Events section of the site.

(Pictured: Miesha Tate)

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