Perspectives of Women in MMA
For several years now mixed martial arts (MMA) has been considered a male-dominated sport because of the stereotypes and cultural restraints targeting women. However, there has been a notable change in recent times as women have continuously taken part in male-dominated sports such as MMA. For example, in Japan, there are promotions that encourage and promote female competition in MMA, such as DEEP Jewels, Smackgirl, and Valkyrie. The U.S. has also seen an increase in the number of women taking part in MMA thanks to organizations such as Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), which remains the industry leader, Resurrection Fighting Alliance, Legacy Fighting Championship, Bellator Fighting Championships, and the all-female Invicta Fighting Championships. Notwithstanding These steps, women are still the primary target of discrimination in MMA. In most cases, women involved in MMA are portrayed in a sexual manner, are not taken seriously, and often overlooked. This has often caused an outcry from women taking part in the sport as well as female audiences of the sport. Therefore, there are many social negative notions regarding women participating in MMA. They are discriminated against, portrayed in a sexual manner, not taken seriously, and are overlooked.
The argument that women are not taken seriously or are overlooked in MMA cannot be doubted as highlighted by myriads of practices and policies in place that oversee the sport. Apparently, MMA rules are not the same for men and women even though the sport is the same and involves similar tactics and skills for both. According to Smith (2008), unlike men’s MMA that consists of five-minute rounds, women’s MMA consists of three-minute rounds. Many observers support this policy where women’s MMA has fewer minute rounds as compared to men’s MMA because of the belief that women cannot sustain injuries over long durations. The reduction in minute rounds for women’s MMA can be attributed to Kim Couture, who during her professional mixed arts debut, was given a serious beating by the opponent. It is unfortunate that a single incident was used as evidence that women’s MMA should consist of fewer minute rounds as compared to the normal minute rounds in men’s MMA. Clearly, the fact that women’s MMA has three-minute rounds rather than five-minute rounds as is the case for men highlights the discrimination that women face in the sport. In fact, Couture, whose fight was used as evidence or support for the policy, came out to make her case that women ought to be treated the same as women inside the cage (Smith, 2008). Of course, the argument that females cannot make it through five-minute round bouts is refutable and only underlines how women are not taken seriously in MMA. Besides, there is no basis for the argument that having shorter rounds for women’s MMA can prevent them from having bloody faces or broken jaws as was the case during Kim Couture’s fight (see fig. 1 below).
(Kim Couture’s fight, n.d.)
Channon & Matthews (2015) postulate that MMA is one of the several contemporary sports that are supercharged with and involve sexual innuendos, which in turn give reinforcement to the conception of the sexual role of females. In MMA, it is common for both men and women to position or manipulate their bodies into sexually suggestive positions. For instance, it is common to see an opponent being on top of another, which is technically the most preferred in MMA. The sexually suggestive positions seen in MMA bring up talks of sexism when the opponents in focus are women and not men. Male observers of women’s MMA often make the case that women assume the position of being “pounded into the ground” that is common during sex or that they are “choked from behind.” Some of these terms are problematic in the cultural context of MMA, and only highlight how women participating in the sport are portrayed in a sexual manner. Channon & Matthews (2015) are also of the opinion that the argument that women in MMA are portrayed in a sexual manner can be supported by common sexist expressions shouted during women’s MMA matches. In recent years, the sexist and abusive expressions targeting women have caused an uproar among groups of women advocates that have pushed and demanded MMA organizations to adopt, enforce, and publicly avail a code of conduct protecting women fighters against abusive language or expressions (Milton, 2004).
Moreover, the preference that MMA organizations or agencies give to men at the expense of women fighters highlights the discrimination of the latter in MMA. Since the inception of women’s MMA, smaller shows have been offering opportunities to women to showcase their MMA skills (Rodriguez, 2009). However, big and recognized organizations in the MMA world like UFC have often preferred men’s over women’s fights. On several occasions, UFC President, Dana White, has gone on record explaining that he has no interest in women’s and that he does not see them incorporated as part of UFC in the coming future. These and several instances in other MMA organizations indicate that the MMA community is no longer concerned with the interest of women fighters in the MMA world (Rodriguez, 2009). Moreover, the discrimination of women at UFC is evident in its deal with Reebok, which tends to favor men at the expense of women. In addition, the pay scale according to UFC’s deal with Reebok has seen most women (86 percent) placed at the very bottom of the tier, and they only receive a meager $2,500 sponsorship per fight from Reebok. This pay is considered far less than what men at UFC receive for every fight (Guillen, 2015). UFC’s treatment or handling of women fighters highlights the discrimination against women in the MMA world. The differences in pay between women and men in MMA is highlighted in the figure below.
(Average Show Money, n.d)
In reality, gender discrimination and inequity are some of the biggest deals when it comes to the sporting world, and therefore, finding a solution to these must be a priority for MMA organizations such as UFC. First, it is important for MMA organizations such as UFC to adopt the same rules for both men and men. This implies that like men’s fights, women’s fights will consist of five-minute rounds as opposed to the current three-minute rounds that have been opposed by several individuals including women taking part in MMA (Jensen et al., 2013). Second, it is recommended that MMA organizations such as UFC should adopt, enforce, and publicly avail a code of conduct that will ensure that UFC fighters as well as other company representatives are held accountable for abusive remarks, expressions, or actions against women fighters (Jensen et al., 2013). Third, with the discrimination, overlooking, and portrayal of women in a sexual manner in MMA all on the rise, it is important for MMA organizations to come up with policies that will ensure every fighter signs an agreement that entails financial penalties and community service if a fighter is involved in any of the mentioned malpractices. If these recommendations or solutions were to be implemented in the MMA world, then a reduction in the number of malpractices targeting women in MMA would be inevitable.
To sum up, the sporting world, especially MMA, involves numerous undesirable factors such as gender discrimination and inequity. In recent years, MMA has been in the spotlight for the numerous complaints and concerns raised about the mistreatments targeting women taking part in the sport. In fact, renowned organizations, such as UFC, denounce women’s involvement in MMA while publicly supporting men’s MMA. However, the fact that women actively participate in sports such as soccer, hockey, basketball, and others, means that they have what it takes to participate in MMA. Therefore, it is important for the stakeholders involved in MMA to adopt and enforce strategies that can help address the mentioned problems. Some of the viable recommendations include the adoption of the same rule for both men and women involved in the MMA sport; adoption, enforcement, and public availability of a code of conduct that will ensure that UFC fighters, as well as other company representatives, are held accountable for abusive remarks, expressions, or actions against women fighters; and the formulation of policies that will ensure every fighter signs an agreement that entails financial penalties and community service if they are involved in practices aimed at discriminating, overlooking, or portraying women in MMA in a sexual manner.
Average Show Money [photograph]. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.bloodyelbow.com/2015/8/15/9158725/mma-culinary-union-226-ufc-women-lower-pay-men-statistics
Channon, A., & Matthews, C. R. (2015). Global perspectives on women in combat sports: Women warriors around the world. Houndmills, Basingstoke Hampshire; New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.
Guillen, A. (May 27, 2015). Sara McMann: UFC-Reebok deal looks discriminatory against an entire gender. Retrieved March 21, 2017, from http://www.mmamania.com/2015/5/27/8662901/sara-mcmann-ufc-reebok-deal-looks-discriminatory-against-entire-gender-women-mma
Jensen, P., Roman, J., Shaft, B., & Wrisberg, C. (2013). In the cage: MMA fighters’ experience of competition. The Sports Psychologist, 27(1), 1-12.
Kim Couture’s fight [photograph]. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://thegarv.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/kimcouture1.jpg
Milton, M. (2004). Being a Fighter II. Existential Analysis: Journal of the Society for Existential Analysis, 15(2).
Rodriguez, K. O. (Aug 2, 2009). Women in Mixed Martial Arts: Fighting for Equality Part I. Retrieved March 21, 2017, from http://www.chicagonow.com/pow-martial-arts/2009/08/women-in-mixed-martial-arts-fighting-for-equality-part-i/
Smith, M. D. (2008, June 29). Kim Couture Says MMA Rules Should Be the Same for Women and Men, I Say She’s Right. Retrieved March 21, 2017, from http://www.mmafighting.com/2008/06/29/kim-couture-says-mma-rules-should-be-the-same-for-women-and-men