It’s time for More! That’s right, BooksPlusMore is venturing into that ambiguous category of More for the first time, hopefully it will be a fruitful journey.
Mixed Martial What?
Over the weekend something happened in the sports world that, depending on who you ask, is either a very big deal or entirely meaningless. On Saturday night, the UFC held its first ever female Mixed Martial Arts bout with champion Ronda Rousey defending her title against the challenger, Liz Carmouche, by her signature move, the armbar, in the first round. For anyone unfamiliar with Mixed Martial Arts, it is about the closest thing we have nowadays to the gladiator games. Fighters go into a caged octagon (much closer to the Colosseum’s elliptical shape than a boxing ring) with no protection and very small gloves on their hands and proceed to punch, kick, elbow, grapple, and submit each other until A. someone goes unconscious, B. someone gives up by “tapping out” (signified by slapping the mat three times with an open palm), or C. the time runs out and the judges choose a winner. It sounds pretty barbaric and in some ways it is, but there is one very important distinction to make—these are not fights to the death. There are rules (especially regarding blows to the back of the head), there are safety precautions, there are doctors on hand and a referee in the ring to stop the fight if he believes one of the fighters is in danger. And you know what, I’ll just come out and say it, I’m a fan. It’s a thoroughly entertaining spectacle and as long as no one breaks a bone or bleeds too crazily it doesn’t get too gruesome (though I will caution that this does happen sometimes).
There has been a lot of debate recently about whether or not the UFC (easily the most popular MMA organization) should include a division for female fighters. Some people think that MMA is too violent for women, some think there aren’t enough quality female fighters to create a division, while others are all for it. To me, the first argument is insane. If someone (male or female) wants to have another person try to knock their face in, who am I to tell them no? I might object to a female fighter going up against a male fighter just because of the biological differences in musculature, but creating a division where women fight other women? Totally.
Now the idea that the UFC shouldn’t feature women just because there aren’t enough quality fighters seems pretty counterintuitive to me. Yes, there are less female MMA fighters than male. Yes, there will be less parity and a greater chance for someone to dominate the division because the competition is lowered, but that’s not a really great reason to skip it all together. What people don’t seem to understand is that the growth and improvement of a sport is a progression. It doesn’t just happen suddenly overnight. The first players in the NBA would get crushed by Michael Jordan, Lebron James, and Kobe Bryant. But, those players might never have found the sport if the NBA waited to form a league until there were “enough” great players. Quality and parity are two things that come with time and exposure. If more women see female MMA fighters, more women will be aware of the sport and more women will become interested in it. And those are necessary aspects for creating a popular, dynamic sport. If you’re in favor of allowing women to do MMA, you should be in favor of the UFC creating a division right now, as they have.
So, that’s great. The UFC has come around and created a female division in their league. But, it’s a little suspicious that this happened so quickly, especially considering that just two years ago UFC president Dana White said that women would “never” fight in the UFC. And that begs the question, why right now? The answer brings us back to the star of the hour—Ronda Rousey. Before entering MMA, Rousey was a bronze-medal winning Olympian in Judo. When she made the switch to MMA, Rousey became an unstoppable force. Sporting an undefeated 7-0 record, Rousey has beaten all of her opponents within the first round (most within the first minute) by armbar submission. She is a superior athlete and the unquestioned #1 female fighter in the world. Of course the UFC would want to sign her, right? But there have been other female fighters to dominate MMA in recent years. Before I ever heard of Ronda Rousey, the name being thrown around was Sarah Kaufman (who won her first 12 matches before eventually losing). And yet, the UFC never showed the slightest interest in her until after they signed Rousey.
It’s unfortunate, but I think that part of the reason for Rousey’s popularity, and for the UFC’s sudden interest in her, has to do with her appearance. Rousey is a beautiful woman. She was even featured on a cover of ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue, which celebrates the beauty of the human form. Now, I think we can all admit that our society has a tendency to objectify women, especially beautiful female athletes (just Google Michelle Jenneke or Allison Stokke and tell me I’m wrong). With that in mind, it isn’t much of a surprise that Rousey’s trash-talking charisma and dominance in her sport, combined with her good looks, makes her the perfect candidate to break through in the UFC.
Progress is important, and sometimes you have to take it any way you can get it. That certainly seems to be Rousey’s strategy as she bad-mouths and poses her way to the top. But, it is still disappointing that a dominant female athlete has to be attractive before she can be vaulted into star status. I look forward to the day when female athletes are judged the same way most male athletes are—by their performance. That day may not be today, but I’m holding out hope that it’s still somewhere in the future.
And Ronda Rousey, if you dislike this post, please don’t try to find me. I prefer my elbow to stay in its socket.