Is Women's MMA About "Sex and Violence" or Compelling Competition?

Photo by Esther Lin for Strikeforce

Seth Pollack at SB Nation Arizona asks the question:I'm not that into MMA to begin with and have never seen the girls fight before my prep for this event and frankly, I don't know what to make of it or what to expect.

There's no hiding the fact that the combination of violence and women triggers a primal reaction that I won't even try to explain but I think we can all acknowledge. Watching people beat on each other is age-old entertainment. Mix in the tantalizing element of sex and it's no wonder that promoters are putting these girls in the ring.

I asked my wife if I should be ashamed or scornful of the battle and in her post-feminist wisdom she basically said, "Who are we to judge if that's what they want to do." Before adding that she hopes I don't expect her to ever get in the ring.

Anyone who's spent any time around women athletes or women in general know better than to question their toughness. That's a non-issue.

Skill and talent is gender neutral so while the women fighting in Phoenix might not be the top in their sport they clearly are well-trained in their art and masters of their various disciplines.

But can the inherent lack of strength and speed make for a compelling competition or is this really just about sex and violence?

Sherdog interviews the participants in Strikeforce's four woman 135lb tournament that will share the Strikeforce Challenger's 10 card with Riggs.  Read Hitomi Akano break down the stylistic match-ups she's facing in the tourney and ask yourself if this woman is participating in a "cat fight" or a competition:

"(Tate's) primary weapon is the takedown and her straight punches are looking good, so she is an all-around fighter," said Akano. "(Kujala) seems like she has got a strength and I have to be cautious about her striking. I think her weakness is a lack of MMA experience. (Damm) has got many unorthodox moves, so against her, I have to maintain my pace and rhythm. I do look at the three other fighters in the tournament, but also, I am looking at myself so I can improve as well."

Here's Meisha Tate with her perspective on the tournament:

"I really like my style matchup with (Akano, Damm and Kujala)," said Tate. "I'm a better wrestler than all of them, so I can dictate whether I want the fight on the feet or on the ground. I'm just going to go out and impose my will. (Kujala) is the one I'm the least worried about because she's the newest and least-experienced fighter. Damm and Akano would be the two tougher matchups for me in the tournament."

While I'm not the biggest fan of women's MMA, I definitely respect it as a sporting proposition. It's just a sport in its infancy. 

Pollack also interviews Joe Riggs who comments on women's MMA and Strikeforce 135lb champ Sarah Kaufman's complaints about being on a Challenger's card:

He did have a problem with Sarah Kaufman who recently complained about the promoter, "I don't know what that girl is talking about. She's lucky to even be on TV."

Riggs is fine with women competing in MMA and said they are exciting - to a point, "As long as they don't say things like they don't want to be on the Challengers card and they want to be main events than they're good. We're the show. The men are what people are here to see."

Riggs would normally be right. But ironically, his headlining bout against Louis Taylor is much less interesting to me, and I think the majority of hardcore MMA fans who comprise the Strikeforce Challenger audience, than the 135lb women's tournament. Riggs, for all his promise, hasn't been relevant in years, but something tells me we'll be seeing a lot more of the 135lb women's division.

Now as for the question of the role of sexualized marketing in women's MMA. That's a big question. Clearly it played a role in the success of Gina Carano, but I really believe women's MMA is more about the empowerment of the competitors than the audience's desire for titillation. Only time will tell if women's MMA will succeed in becoming a truly distinct sport with a non-sexual appeal unique from men's MMA. 

More BE coverage of Strikeforce Challengers 10: Riggs vs. Taylor

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