When the UFC's Fox deal went through, you couldn't go five minutes of an MMA obsessed life without hearing about the male 18-34 demographic that Fox and the UFC share as their core market. It is probably not surprising that a sport in which women are continually overlooked, unless in the role of a pretty and clueless gap filler (Strikeforce's Heidi Androl) or ring girls, does not get many female followers. It should be noted that there are a few upstanding female citizens in the MMA world. Karen Bryant is a respected MMA journalist, but shouldn't have had to shake off being motorboated by Rampage Jackson. There are female fighters who attempt to market themselves as fighters rather than lookers, like Sarah Kaufman and, in a change of heart, Miesha Tate.
I love MMA and I feel like since women in MMA are not being taken seriously we are currently being robbed of what could develop into a strong division or set of divisions as female fans and therefore prospective female fighters are no doubt being put off by a sport that gives the impression of being a man's world.
My point then, is that there are plenty of good female fighters who I would really like to see fight more. The general atmosphere of chauvinism in MMA journalism, organisations and among some fans leads to an environment where female fans are discouraged, where female fighters are ignored, ridiculed or forced to market themselves as sexy rather than skilled. If female fighters and women in general are not treated equally in MMA, the sport will be robbed of half its audience and half its potentially great fighters and that is a shame.
After the jump I will focus on six main areas or incidents which highlight the chauvinism in MMA.
There is one high profile female referee in MMA, Kim Winslow. Last weekend she controversially took an age to rescue Lorenz Larkin from a pummelling at the hands of King Mo Lawal, when he was clearly finished. Now, King Mo was rightfully upset that she had not stopped the fight earlier as it meant he had to keep going longer than he would have liked, risking the health of a fellow fighter. However, there was a great Bloody Elbow fanpost which made a strong case for the fact that while criticism of Winslow was justified on this occasion, all top tier referee have made high profile errors and it is extremely rare that they incur sustained criticism from fans and journalists. Many people have said that they believe Kim Winslow has no place refereeing in MMA, but the implication of the criticism feels like there is no place for a woman in there with male fighters.
Christine "Cyborg" Santos is the most explosive and athletic fighter in women's MMA. Now, let's just put aside the fact that she was found to have taken weight reducing steroids and yet people still say "In told you she got those massive muscles unnaturally". Before we knew that, the main point people would make about Santos was that she looks and fights like a man. As far as I can tell, the reality is that she fights like a great, aggressive fighter and I do not exactly see what her gender has got to do with it.
Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate
If you did not go and watch the telephone argument between Rousey and Tate on Ariel Helwani's MMA Hour, then I strongly suggest that you do. Ronda Rousey has made it pretty clear that, in spite of only having four career fights, albeit with four astonishing arm bar finishes, she should be given a title shot against Miesha Tate. Tate (and Sarah Kaufman who Rousey has pushed past in the queue) feel like Rousey has yet to pay her dues and does not deserve the shot that Strikeforce has now confirmed she will be given. Rousey's reasoning? She is a very beautiful marketable girl and so is Miesha Tate, while Sarah Kaufman is a little bit plain. The Tate vs Rousey fight is going to be a bigger draw.
Of course it is up to Ronda how she wants to market herself, but she has been pretty disrespectful towards her fellow female fighters. I feel like they deserve credit as athletes. I am pretty sure that no one was annoyed that GSP fought BJ Penn twice, even though Penn is short and bald and not going to be able to draw fans in base don his looks. She is also being pretty disrespectful towards her audience. Sure, as I am repeatedly pointing out, MMA is a pretty chauvinistic place, but it is not as bad as Rousey seems to think. The fact is that we fans are fans of fights. If you are interested in scantily clad attractive women, there are plenty of places to go to find it, but I think people who tune in to MMA fights are more interested in fighting. She should not assume that we will only be interested in fights if they feature attractive people, after all we watch ugly men fighting all the time.
I am not much of a boxing fan, but I can only assume that the use of ring girls follows in the tradition from boxing. I find it pretty strange when I see it on TV, but found it a bit creepy when I watched a live UFC event to see thousands of men whistling at a lady in her underwear. I feel like if we are going to have ring girls, because it's nice for fans to have someone to rest their eyes on between rounds, maybe we should have ring guys as well, I know quite a few female fans who would be quite chuffed if GSP was a guest Octagon guy.
I know ring girls are not a really big part of MMA, but they are a feature of every promotion and really, I find it a bit weird. This is probably the point I am most shaky on though, because I know that in the US, where the majority of MMA that I watch is held, you guys have cheerleaders and things before sports so maybe it just seems really normal over there. But for me, I don't exactly understand what they're doing there.
"WMMA lacks depth"
How exactly do we know that women's MMA lacks depth? Have the majority of fans and journalists been watching Jewel events in Japan, keeping an eye on the Bellator to watch the women's 115lb and 125lb divisions. In the MMA community people completely overlook any division apart from 145lb and 135lb, but back when the UFC started MMA itself was shallow. The way you find the fighters is by growing the sport.
My point here is that while for men's divisions like the newly added UFC 125lb division, depth isn't an issue because the UFC is willing to put in time to raise the profile of plenty of fighters and create an interest. There is absolutely no reason why the UFC or Strikeforce could not do the same with women's MMA, perhaps beginning with 135lb, where the most famous fighters are. I feel like the reason this is not done is because there is a general lack of consideration of the female fighters as fighters and this is because of the overall mood of chauvinism in MMA.
Male fighters disparaging/pseudo moral comments.
Here is Matt Hughes saying he does not like the idea of women hitting each other, although he is gracious enough to allow women in the army.
Here is Dana White laughing at the idea of women being allowed in the UFC
These are two videos which are quite shockingly dismissive of a whole gender's worth of athletes. If anyone was this disparaging about female fighters in the gym where I train, they would not be popular.
The point of these two videos is not really that these views are a bit out dated and silly, but rather that they are representative of opinions held by quite a few people within MMA and that they add to the feeling in MMA that women are not respected or welcome.
Finally, here's a video of Donald Cerrone, Uriah Faber, Frank Mir and (I think) Mike Brown chatting about women's MMA. Everyone who speaks makes some pretty good points, but the sensible thinking is pretty much ruined as they fall into giggling about getting female fighters to the ground. And this is a big part of problem, MMA tends to be a bit man's world and I do not think that women can feel all that comfortable within it.
About the future of women's MMA, as a fight fan I am desperate for the women's divisons to properly get off the ground and for the best fighters to be fighting regularly. About MMA in general, I think it is time for people within the sport, especially journalists and promoters who ought to be acting professionally, to welcome women in as fighters, referees and fans with respect and equality.
You can find other blog entires from me at jim-ma.blogspot.com