The Role of Women in Mixed Martial Arts

Image credit: ESPN
Image credit: ESPN

The sport of mixed martial arts fighting is growing in popularity in the United States. You are just as likely to walk into a bar and see cage fighting on television as baseball or basketball. Female fighters like Ronda Rousey have made women’s mixed martial arts even more popular. The question coming up in this sport is, will the sexes ever compete against one another? In Rousey’s last fight on February 28, 2015, her female competitor, Cat Zingano, only lasted fourteen seconds before losing to Rousey. Kail Bosque, owner of Conquest Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Academy in Maryland, says once a competitor reaches the age of eighteen, men and women never compete against one another.

Magazines like Men’s Fitness glamourize the idea of “watching two hot, half-naked women strangle each other into submission,” but what would they think about a mixed gender fight? Some opponents of the sport think women should not participate at all, even against each other. In answer to the opponents, Rousey says in an interview with Jimmy Fallon, “This is the most pro-woman sport in the world. I’m the number one draw in all of the Ultimate Fighting Championship and I’m a woman,” Rousey told Fallon. “To say it’s anti-woman is anti-feminist.”

How about a transgendered female athlete fighting another female in this combat sport? Fighter Fallon Fox is facing this controversy right now, she is the first openly transgender athlete in mixed martial arts history. The aggression that is associated with mixed martial arts fighting is a contradiction with qualities most of society associates with being female. From a physical standpoint, it brings a new argument into the ring; will a transgendered female have an advantage?

Dr Eric Vilain, the Co-Director of the Institute for Society and Genetics at University of California, Los Angeles, has helped the Association of Boxing Commissions write its transgender policy. The International Olympic Committee has already ruled that transgender athletes can compete in the Olympics. Still, the UFC, Ultimate Fighting Championship, the world’s leading mixed martial arts promoter, refuses to rank Fox as a female fighter. What actually constitutes a “male” or “female” fighter is a question that will have to be answered as men and women continue to fight.

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