Want WMMA to Be Taken Seriously? Stop Objectifying the Fighters
The old advertising adage that sex sells has been a double-edged sword for women's mixed martial arts.
While the breathtaking beauty of some of the sport's top female fighters has helped to propel them into the spotlight, their success may be hindering the rise of other up-and-coming women prospects. Also, if the MMA world is to fully accept WMMA into the fold, the culture of the industry has to stop objectifying their female athletes.
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In order to do this, however, promotions first have to stop buying into this myth that a woman's looks are just as important as her skill when selling a fight, because that's simply untrue. As Don Draper, the suave ad man of the award-winning AMC drama Mad Men, once said, "You feeling something. That's what sells. Not them. Not sex."
Sure, in its heyday, WMMA sort of needed to use sex to sell fights due to the large amount of male fans in the sport. There's no denying that the likes of Gina Carano and Ronda Rousey were able to break into the mainstream because of their good looks.
But once male fans were done ogling these Amazonian-like warriors, they quickly found out that these women were no joke.
As soon as Carano and Rousey were able to get into the spotlight, fans instantly saw just how talented they are. But from the get-go, promotions should have been highlighting female fighters' skills and not their looks.
The newly created all-female fight promotion Invicta FC has shown that organizations can bring in the fans without objectifying women fighters. With Invicta, you won't see overly suggestive promo videos or raunchy posters that past promotions would use. Instead, the focus is putting on great fights and showcasing these women's skills.
While bigger fight organizations might scoff at this idea, Invicta has proven that this is the way to go as it continues to grow its fanbase, recently having its server crash due to the high amount of online traffic in just its second card ever.
When fight promotions decide to promote the better-looking female fighter instead of the more skilled athlete, it completely undermines the sport. Often, it leaves the better fighter by the wayside just so an organization can prance around its latest beauty.
Strikeforce nearly fell prey to this when they opted to go with Rousey instead of the No. 1 contender Sarah Kaufman to challenge the then bantamweight champ Miesha Tate.
Kaufman, the former champ and the last person to have defeated Tate up to that point, was up in arms when Strikeforce went with Rousey, who had only been fighting as a pro for less than a year. The former champ was angry that they basically chose the better-looking fighter for the job.
Strikeforce didn't hide their intentions either, as its myriad of sexually charged promos can attest to.
Luckily for the Zuffa-owned organization, Rousey lived up to her hype and proved her world-class skill by breaking Tate's arm to win the belt.
In the aftermath, Rousey has become a huge star and a media darling, taking female fighters into the mainstream. If she had lost, however, WMMA would have taken a huge hit.
And that's the gamble promotions take when they go with beauty over skill. It'll either be an enormous win or a big disaster.
Beyond selling fights, I'm sure the women themselves would appreciate a change in the industry's mindset.
In Rousey's recently released All Access episode detailing her days leading up to her first title defense against Kaufman later this month, she talked about issues she's had to deal with in the past related to her body and image.
As Rousey discusses in the video clip embedded in the article, women, regardless of their age or looks, are constantly dealing with the absurd amount of pressure society puts on looks and beauty.
Being a male, I will never fully understand this struggle and neither will any male fan, fighter or industry leader in the sport. And that's why the onus is on us.
The women are already doing their jobs by fighting hard and showcasing their amazing talent.
But since men basically dominate MMA, it is up to us to affect change by treating female fighters as equals to male fighters, praising them for their skill, not just their looks.
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