For us in the MMA media, there has been plenty to write about in the last few days. Nick Diaz is cutting the line to fight GSP. Ronda Rousey has received her UFC belt. Oh, and there are three cards that are going down in the next week.
A fact that has flown under the radar, though, is the fact that the UFC has added its first ever openly homosexual fighter, Liz Carmouche.
Carmouche is going to be Rousey's opponent at UFC 157 and will also be part of the UFC's first ever female fight (or at least, its first female main event, given how another women's fight could be added to the 157 card). After going 2-2 in Strikeforce, Carmouche won back-to-back fights in the all-women Invicta FC. The fight with Rousey, obviously, will be her UFC debut and by far the biggest fight of her life.
Carmouche is a great personality for the UFC. As part of a military family, Carmouche spent five years in the United States Marine Corps, working as a helicopter technician and doing numerous tours of duty in the Middle East. She discussed the struggle reconciling her lesbian identity with her military service in a must-read interview with Sports Illustrated in October.
The UFC has historically had a great deal of difficulty coping with allegations of homophobia amongst its fighters and brass. While most fighters will state in interviews that they are progressive, others will let the “other 'F' word” slip out on occasion, generating bad publicity for not just themselves, but the entire sport. Additionally, it certainly does not help that UFC President Dana White has also publicly used the word in the past.
This bad habit ended up a major talking point in the UFC's battle to have MMA legalized in New York. The Culinary Worker's Union, a major labor organization in the state, holds a great deal of political power and allegedly takes issue with the Fertitta brothers (the owners of the UFC's parent company, Zuffa) and their history of union busting at their casinos. In their marketing campaign against the sport, the perceived homophobia in the fight business came front and center.
Perhaps to combat this, the UFC extended an opportunity to Dakota Cochrane, an amateur fighter whose resume includes several gay pornographic films, to appear on The Ultimate Fighter: Live. His UFC career would be big news but painfully short as he lost his fight to get into “The House” to James Vick. Since, Cochrane has been fighting in the Resurrection Fighting Alliance.
Carmouche, though, becomes the first openly homosexual fighter to enter the Octagon and, perhaps, the first openly homosexual athlete in a major sport (depending on if you consider MMA a major sport). While various athletes have come out of the closet following retirement, Carmouche's sexuality is public knowledge as she competes.
Other professional sports have had a similarly rocky relationship with the homosexual community over the years. The most famous example of this was retired New York Knick, John Amaechi, coming out of the closet in his memoirs in 2007 (he left the NBA in 2004). Reactions were across the spectrum from very positive to very negative, but by far, the most famous soundbite came from Tim Hardaway, who stated live on radio that he “wouldn't want him on my team.”
Similarly, the NFL and NHL have found themselves in an awkward position as players like Brandon Ayanbadejo and Sean Avery come out in favor of gay marriage, with mixed responses from fans, teammates, the media and league brass.
Ultimately, though, there is no way to look at Carmouche's presence in the UFC as anything other than a huge step forward, and a groundbreaking moment for sports as a whole. Once again, watch for Carmouche's UFC debut at UFC 157 on February 23, 2013 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, CA.