A little more than a week ago I wrote a fanpost about the recent WTA campaign, Strong is Beautiful. In it I highlighted how in marketing and presenting WMMA that it is not only ok, but necessary to show the strength and beauty of WMMA fighters. Let their femininity and passion be a selling point. Since that time the whole motorboating, c*nty swearing incident imploded all over the MMA media and bled out into the mainstream. And it wasn't pretty. Not for the UFC, not for its fans, not for MMA as a whole. Everyone is tired of talking about it but it still stings and still hasn't been handled properly. In light of my last fanpost comparing WTA to WMMA I was brought back to the famous Billie Jean King v Bobby Riggs feud.
Bobby Riggs on 60 Minutes (via BlaoSM)
For those of you who don't know the history of this rivalry it was one that put women's tennis on the map. Bobby Riggs, a former Wimbledon and US Open champ, embraced the role of "the heel" as he challenged Billie Jean King to a tennis match. It became known as "The Battle of the Sexes" and Bobby ran his mouth as good as any heel could. He became the poster boy for male chauvinism in a new era of women's liberation. With the mic in front of him he could be heard saying things like "If I am to be a chauvinist pig, I want to be the number one pig." He brought the trash talk daily, declaring women inferior, till he finally faced Billie Jean King in September of 1973. Then she thrashed him three sets to none. 50 million viewers tuned in and women's tennis was born. From there Navratilova to recent champ Li Na have carried the banner and the sport has grown and been better for it.
First, let me get it out of the way, I'm not saying that Cris Cyborg should face off against Leonard Garcia. I'm not calling for a "Battle of the Sexes" in MMA. What I am calling for is a real push for the women's division. I know, Dana has made his case against WMMA in the past. Recently though he has changed his tune a bit. This is what he has said on the subject a few weeks ago:
"There's this big misconception out there about me that i don't like women's fighting and everything else. I have no problem with women's fighting. The problem right now, it was a problem with boxing and it's a problem with MMA right now is you don't have enough women that are good enough to create an entire division. So what you get is you get a couple of women who are really good, and a lot of women who really aren't. And I don't like lopsided fights, especially with women. So as this sport continues to grow, if there are more and more women where you can actually create an entire division with a lot of talented women, I'm all about it."
Well, if you look are only looking at Cris Cyborg's 145 lbs weight class, he's right, there is not a lot of talent there yet. It's growing but there are not enough challengers and Cyborg's frustration speaks to that. But, in the 135 and under classes there is a growing pool of high quality talent and there is certainly a chance to create real, functioning divisions. Strikeforce has done a great job with WMMA, the Carano/Cyborg fight was one of the most watched events on SHO and it gained mainstream attention. The Coenen/Carmouche fight had one of those incredible finishes that got me jumping out of my seat. Sarah Kaufman's Rampage-esque slam reverberated through the MMA universe. If you have spent anytime watching WMMA, you know the women bring it.
Gina Carano, the brightest star in her sport, is less than two weeks away from her return. With her return, eyes will once again turn towards WMMA. Hopefully, her time at Jackson's camp has her ready and she will deliver on one of the most anticipated cards of the year. They should use this opportunity to build for the Coenen/Tate match at Fedor vs Hendo. Both are imminently marketable fighters and, then, somehow they need to find a competitor for Cyborg on the September card. In the meantime, they need to do what they can to get as much of the women's talent in Strikeforce and get them on every card. Challenger or Championship. If this inevitable fold of Strikeforce into the UFC is going to happen so soon, which I don't believe, then the women need to be as strong as possible before they do. Why? Because women class up the joint.
I want more women in MMA. I want them working in the promotions, I want them in the media, I want them in the blogs, and I want them in the cage. No matter how you look at it, they elevate the dialogue. There is a reason why, in such turbulent times in foreign policy, that since 1997 three of the four Secretary of State of the U.S. have been women. Strong women. It's a decided tactic, they change the tenor of negotiations. In a vastly different world, but essentially same paradigm, women can do the same for MMA. Fighters are all about respect. Respect given, respect earned, respect deserved. That takes place in the cage. And, please, don't give me the 'women fighting is too brutal' lecture. Women have been a part of violent, action entertainment for some time now. From Mila Jovovich and Uma Thurman kicking ass in movies like "The Fifth Element" and "Kill Bill", to video game heroines with massive weaponry like Lara Croft, to Trish Stratus pulling off enziguri kicks at the peak of the Attitude Era. This generation is programmed to watch women throw down. I think it will be a monumental day, when on a big UFC PPV, two women earn Fight of the Night honors. That will be a tipping point moment. A Bobby Riggs/Billie Jean King moment. In such a moment women in MMA will earn their much deserved and belated respect, and the sport will be light years better for it.