Joe Buck is a seasoned broadcaster. Royce Gracie has plenty of media appearances under his belt. So we may never know why Buck felt the need to ask Gracie, last week on Buck’s talk show ‘Undeniable,’ what he thought of women’s MMA. It was a strangely tone-deaf question.
And we have to wonder why Gracie followed up with an equally tone-deaf answer, saying he prefers women to be “feminine” and doesn’t want to get “beat up” when he gets home.
Let’s get this out of the way first: Relax. This isn’t going to be a strident tirade insisting that everyone who doesn’t watch every WNBA broadcast and didn’t buy the Holly Holm-Germaine de Randamie fight is a sexist pig who needs to spend a month at a sensitivity workshop. The discussions on hegemonic patriarchy can go elsewhere.
We don’t need to get that complicated here. We won’t even focus on why Gracie’s comments are offensive. The Bloody Elbow audience is clearly more enlightened than the studio audience for this show, which cheered when Gracie quipped that he doesn’t like women’s MMA because he would like “to get home and get beat up.” Anyone who has followed the War Machine saga isn’t likely to cheer for a sexist crack on domestic violence.
So we’ll skip the obvious lectures on male privilege and whatnot. What’s shocking about Gracie’s comments aren’t how offensive they are. It’s the ignorance. It’s as if this pioneer of mixed martial arts has been cryogenically preserved in a gym in Brazil, emerging only to beat Ken Shamrock with a groin shot and do an interview on a set that seems borrowed from a public-access show. The basement in Wayne’s World is the Ed Sullivan Theater compared to this.
How backwards does Gracie come across here? Let’s break it down:
- “I like the woman feminine.” The definition of “feminine” is not a women in a petticoat in a kitchen. In 1999, six years after Gracie demonstrated that jiu-jitsu can be very effective against people who don’t know jiu-jitsu, the biggest sports team in the USA was a bunch of women’s soccer players with visible muscle tone. We saw women sweat, bleed, and wear sports bras.
Since then (or maybe a decade or two before then), kick-ass women have been everywhere. The Kill Bill films didn’t exactly make guys turn against Uma Thurman. Not many actresses these days are bigger than Jennifer Lawrence, hailed in 2012 as “America’s Kick-Ass Sweetheart.”
Little wonder women’s MMA has to struggle to keep its stars fighting when Hollywood can so easily lure away Gina Carano and Ronda Rousey. Dancing With the Stars voters and judges didn’t have much of a problem with Paige VanZant’s day job.
What has Gracie been watching that defines “feminine” so narrowly? Old Popeye cartoons with Olive Oyl waving her spaghetti arms?
So we can all be thankful it’s not up to Gracie to define “feminine.”
2. “I don’t like to get home and get beat up.” That’s quite a leap in one sentence from stereotyping women to stereotyping MMA fighters. If someone spends the day fighting in a gym, he or she is going to do the same at home? Haven’t we spent a couple of decades trying to convince the general public that MMA fighters are usually intense competitors in the cage but kind, warm-hearted people at home?
If we’re going to paint all MMA fighters as domestic abusers, we might as well go back to the days of the sport being labeled “human cockfighting.”
3. “I’m a big fan of a good match.” Fine. But if your definition of “good match” is Woodley-Thompson (or Gracie-Shamrock) ahead of anything from the back catalogs of Carano, Rose Namajunas, Michelle Waterson or a lot of the other fighters who’ve been through The Ultimate Fighter in recent years, you’re watching with blinders on.
We have to wonder where Buck found a studio audience that cheered on Gracie’s nonsense. At the typical MMA show, fans don’t go running for the concession stands when women fighters go to the cage, even back on regional promotions several years ago. (I rather enjoyed the Felice Herrig-Iman Achhal bout in 2009, even if Virginia judges proved themselves rather suspect.)
And women fighters have proved, time after time, that they’re great representatives of the sport. In the TUF house, they’re not the ones scrapping on concrete or baiting cast-mates with nasty comments about their families. In the real world, they’re great spokeswomen for the sport as it continues to shed the vestigial stereotypes that people had of “no holds barred” fighting in the mid-90s. It helps too, that women fighters are less likely than their male counterparts to look like they passed out in a chair while a bunch of inebriated tattoo artists went to work.
The 21st century is a pretty good time for mixed martial arts. Gracie is welcome to join us any time. Until then, the next time Gracie is asked about women’s MMA, he should simply go against family tradition and tap out.