Transgender Fighter Fallon Fox Speaks on Her Journey to the Cage

Michael Stets@@DarcesideradioContributor IIIMay 23, 2013

Image courtesy of CFA
Image courtesy of CFA

They call her "The Queen of Swords" in the cage, but in the press, some call her unrepeatable things. After undergoing gender reassignment surgery in 2006, she chose "Fallon Fox."  

By definition, Fallon means superiority. Fox chuckled when talking about the meaning, saying, “I've heard a lot of different meanings of the name. What I first found was that it means 'the girl who is in charge.' It kind of describes me.” 

Her nickname is just as appropriate. When the Queen of Swords is victorious, she spins her imaginary sword and sheaths it back in its rightful holster as a post-fight celebration, akin to Arnold Schwarzenegger in Conan the Barbarian

Fox's monicker is “kind of a long story,” she explained. A transgender friend on Facebook wrote a post using the name, sparking her interest. 

"I looked up the Queen of Swords and I read the meaning. It was a tarot card. The description of the tarot card sounded to me like the description of a certain type of woman: She’s strong, she’s proud, she’s intelligent and all these different things. I was like, that’s how I want to be. That’s the persona I want to try and put out there. It was a very emotional time for me, and I just decided that I would keep it as my fight name."

After her surgery, Fox was living the life she had always wanted to live, culminating in 2011 when she began her professional career in mixed martial arts. It wasn’t until she found out a reporter was going to break the truth about her past life that she was forced to tell her story. 

Her life would be changed forever, as she instantly made national headlines. 

Suddenly, everyone was talking about the most famous transgender athlete in sports since tennis star Renee Richards. Richards, after being denied the right to play in the U.S. Open in 1976, famously fought the United States Tennis Association and won a Supreme Court decision in 1977 to play against women professionally.

Richards became a symbol for the rights of transgender athletes, a role Fox is also willing to accept.

“I was pretty sure, going along the timeline, I was going to have to embrace being a role model for transsexuals in mixed martial arts, and I’m willing to embrace it—of course."

Becoming Fallon and Discovery of MMA

Fox, born Boyd Burton, had feelings about being a woman since her pre-pubescent years. After high school, she married her pregnant girlfriend and had a daughter.

The journey would take her into the Navy then to the University of Toledo, but she ended up behind the wheel of a trucking job that would send her back and forth across the country so she could raise money for the gender reassignment surgery—which would take place in Bangkok, Thailand.

"I began some counseling, and in 2006, I decided to undergo gender reassignment surgery," Fox said.  Her four-year-old daughter was made aware of the life-altering transition that was soon to occur. Her parents, deeply religious, not only didn’t approve but felt like being a lesbian or gay could be cured through prayer.

When it was over, Fox explained how she felt. 

“It was successful and finally it was like my mind matched my body. I had become the person I felt was inside of me all along."

Fox would begin her fresh start in Chicago, Ill., and stumbled upon her current profession. 

"I was looking for a way to lose a little weight and discovered MMA and its disciplines, and I fell in love with it,” Fox admitted. 

“I started training (at the Midwest Training Center) and fought in some amateur competitions and won all of my fights. Then I turned pro and here we are today. On Friday, I'm fighting in the women's semifinals for the CFA title."

The Waiting Period

Fox's transition into the sport has not been a seamless one. After starting her career 2-0 with a win in Iowa and another in Florida, the legitimacy of her license came into question.    

Her fate would rest in the hands of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (FDBPR), the agency that oversees the state's athletic commission. 

Her license to fight was under review based on a perceived violation of Chapter 548. Under that chapter, the commission can suspend or revoke a license or permit if the licensee or permittee committed fraud or deceit.

Fox was under the impression she had received her California license, but CSAC executive director Andy Foster said her license was pending, since she was still under medical review.

The fact that people thought that she was trying to withhold information to a commission about being transgender did not sit well in the court of public opinion, nor did it sit well with many fighters. Public outcry on the subject began to swell. 

One man who stood behind Fox was Jorge De La Noval, the founder and president of Championship Fighting Alliance. He actually delayed the CFA 11 fight card, pushing it back three weeks so Fox could get the ruling from the FDBPR and still fight Allanna Jones on May 24. 

“Actually, I was one of the first persons to find out," Noval told Bleacher Report. "My reaction from the get-go was we’re going to support her. In CFA, we don’t discriminate against anybody.”

Fox was eventually exonerated. On April 3, FDBPR general counsel Roger Mass ended the case, saying, “The evidence does not support the prosecution of the specified violations of Chapter 548, Florida statutes, or the rules promulgated thereunder. Therefore this case should be closed.”

Fox stated, “There was no doubt in my mind that the commission would approve my license. I didn’t see it going any other way.”

Vitriol, Contempt and Understanding Hormones

It seemed like you couldn’t go onto an MMA website or forum without seeing someone’s opinion on Fox, whether it was relevant to the story or not. UFC color commentator Joe Rogan had the first harangue. Matt Mitrione’s comments got him suspended by the UFC, and Ronda Rousey also had a strong opinion on Fox.

A lot of the negativity attached to the stigma came from preconceived notions based on personal bias and ignorance of the medical facts on the matter. The opinion was that despite the surgery to become a woman, it couldn’t change bone structure or the physicality of a man, thus giving Fox an unfair advantage. 

Bringing up the topic of Fox fighting women, to a fan of MMA or not, would usually illicit a response along the lines of, “How is that fair?”

Sheryl Wulkan, M.D., drafted the first transgender policy for the Association of Boxing Commission. It hasn’t been in need until Fox. Among the criteria, it is noted that hormone therapy must occur for a minimum of two years after gonadectomy in order for a transgender fighter to be allowed to compete.

Fox explained that she must “consistently” take hormones. She cannot and does not ever cycle off them. She explained that even if she didn't take hormones, her “testosterone levels would remain the same." 

"For the rest of my life, my testosterone levels will remain underneath women who were born with female anatomy. There’s no advantage I could ever get by not taking estrogen,” Fox said. “Which I’m not doing, I’m just saying that’s a fact, so people should realize that. Which, I don’t think most people understand.”

Support from Family and a UFC Champion 

Fox said she is "getting support for sure, but it could be better.” Support from a UFC champion doesn’t hurt, as UFC light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones spoke up on the matter, showing empathy for Fox while simultaneously ridiculing Mitrione.

“That’s a strong person," Jones said during a UFC 159 pre-fight media day. “I’m a fan of that person.”

Jones then called Mitrione a “scumbag” for the comments he made toward Fox.

Fox said it was both "awesome and courageous” for someone like Jones to “take a stand," adding, “I think Jon Jones is an awesome guy, I appreciate his comments.”

She also mentioned that other fighters have contacted her privately.

In her everyday life, Fox finds peace where she trains in Chicago at the Midwest Training Center.

“Every time I go into the gym they are supportive and they make me feel like it’s a real family there.  They’re like my new family,” Fox said affectionately.

Fox's support system consists of her teammates and her daughter. That’s who she “leans on” and “depends on” most. 

Fox’s daughter is now 16 years old. She lives with Fox and has seen her entire transformation—from Boyd Burton to Fallon “The Queen of Swords” Fox.

Refusing to Fight the Queen of Swords a Lost Opportunity?

Featherweight Peggy Morgan made a video with her manager stating that if she was paired against Fox in the CFA women’s tournament, she would not fight her based on her opponent having an unfair advantage. There were others who felt the same way, according to CFA president Jorge De La Noval.

“They didn’t want to fight Fallon,” Noval explained. “The first couple of weeks they were all iffy about it and confused, and so were we. Nobody had any medical knowledge of the situation, so people are very quick to pull the trigger when they see stuff like that.”

Fox believes that if they aren’t going to fight her, it’s because they’re scared. 

“Well, clearly fear comes from misunderstanding, right? If you don’t understand a person, you are very likely to fear them. Obviously, she just doesn’t understand my sexuality. That may be a part of her fear. Another part could be... she might see my ability as better than hers."

What if the roles were reversed? How would Fox feel if she were fighting a transgender fighter?

“Me being me, I’m very rational and logical, so I would look into the information that was presented and draw my own conclusion. I understand how there is a lot of confusion, and how people have questions. I understand that; I completely get that. It’s not something that people run into every day, and it’s completely logical and understandable for people to have questions.”

Now, several fighters who were once against fighting Fox would likely ignore their moral compass for a chance at national exposure. 

“Two months later all the girls wanted to fight Fallon," Noval said. “The attention that Fallon has gotten and the attention she is going to get now on national TV—every girl wants that opportunity.” 

Some will argue that Fox doesn’t deserve to have the privilege of fighting; that her 39-second knockout over featherweight Ericka Newsome was a clear indicator of a physical advantage.

Fox, however, believes “that assertion is ridiculous.” It is worth noting that Newsome her previous bout in 36 seconds. 

As far as this weekend's matchup at CFA 11 vs. Jones goes, Fox feels she “should do very, very well." She said will be "focused on the fight, and the fight alone" when she faces Allanna Jones on May 24 on AXS TV.

When prompted if she would seek further compensation for helping build CFA's awareness, Fox responded, “A pay raise would be nice.”


No Transgender Policy in Florida?

Last Friday, a conference call took place with members of the FDBPR, the Florida Boxing Commission (FBC) and members of the ABC medical advisory board. 

Bleacher Report was able to obtain the audio from that conference call and sifted through the relevant information.

“The commission doesn’t know what to expect," Noval said, sounding frustrated after being asked about the call. “We are constantly going back and forth on security. We are constantly going back and forth on how they are going to test her before the fight.”

That’s interesting news. The commission cleared Fox to fight in the beginning of April, yet it is less than a week out from the fight, and there are still questions about her pre-fight medical exam?

When asked about it, Fox said, “I haven’t heard anything about what you are talking about. All I know is that I’m cleared to fight.” 

“I don’t see any other testing they would have to do for me," Fox said. “I don’t see what that would encompass. I have no clue. I’ve never heard that, I don’t know what that would even mean. Perhaps he is talking about the implementation of a transgender policy, a possible transgender policy they are considering.”


In the audio Bleacher Report was able to obtain from that conference call, the participants were indeed trying to figure out how to implement a policy for transgender fighters in Florida. 

Dr. Robert Boltuch, who is a member of the medical advisory committee for the ABC and a longtime ring-side physician for the FBC, spoke out strongly in opposition.

“In terms of full fairness and protection of the fighter, I have some concerns. I don’t believe this is a political issue. I don’t believe this is a social issue. In fact, I feel this is a safety that we have to really think about before we decide which direction we want to go in.

"Looks like we already had an issue with a transgender fighter in the ring. She was unknown to the ringside doctors and the other participants, and it seemed like it was a big mismatch.”

Later in the call, Dr. Mark Williams—who is the chairman of the FBC—stated, “We have to come up with a policy. The ABC already has a policy. We have to do something. We have to act. It’s not a question of not acting.”

Florida Boxing Commissioner Tirso Martinez responded by saying, “We are going to act, but maybe our action is not to allow it.”   

Senior Assistant Attorney General Thomas Barnhart interrupted Martinez, saying, "We don’t have statutory authority to deny a transgender athlete, so I think a policy is going to have to be developed to allow it. If it’s to be forbidden, it would have to come from the legislature, and I don’t think that is going to happen."

Williams once again spoke of the need for a transgender policy. “We have to come up with our own," he said. “I’m looking for input on that. Where do you guys want to start with that? This is really why we’re here.”

Clearly, nobody is on the same page. Could you imagine after all that has transpired the last few months, Fox may still not be cleared to fight this weekend? 

Update: FDBPR responded to Noval's comments on pre-fight testing, saying: "Fallon Fox will undergo a pre-fight physical at the weigh-in, the same as all fighters undergo."


Comic Book Heroes

All of us have heroes, especially of the classic, comic-book variety. We are drawn in to the traits and flaws of those characters, relating strongly to the ones that closely mirror ourselves.

“My favorite comic book has been the X-Men,” admitted Fox. “It kind of correlates to the LGBT community in general, the struggles of how people misunderstood them. They fought for who they were—strong correlation there. I’ve always liked that comic book.”

The X-Men were outcasts due to their physical appearance and possession of the "X" gene, which gave them special powers. 

Fox can relate as a transgender and member of the LGBT community, because many, including herself, have been cast out, faced discrimination and been terribly misunderstood.

“It’s always a tendency for people to look at people in my community—especially the transsexual community—and dehumanize us, and I think that’s because of their uncomfortability with us. We’re human and we’re people just like everyone else.

"We have the same emotions and the same drive to do things as everyone else. We have to go to work. We have to eat. We have family, we have kids—everything, just like everyone else, we are no different. We just have to work a little bit harder and make some changes in our life that maybe other people didn’t have to make.”

Personal life aside, though, Fox is working on being a fighter. Fighting is where she is free. 

“For sure, that’s what I do. That’s what I am,” Fox admitted. “It’s almost as much a part of me as being a transsexual woman.”

Fox explained that a transgender has “heart and passion just like everyone else," and that they “deserve to do the things that other people do."

The Ultimate Goal and Message of a Pioneer

When former NBA player Jason Collins came out as openly gay, he instantly received widespread support. Fox hasn’t experienced the same, yet.

“It’s frustrating and I’m envious a little bit," Fox explained. “I congratulate him and applaud him and I think he’s awesome. It’s really good to see, and it makes me hopeful that transsexual people will be greeted with that much support. “

Fox explained that someone who is transgender could be more widely accepted if they were as known as someone who is gay.

“Not that many people know transsexuals,” Fox said. “It’s partially because we are not as visible. That’s what I’m doing right now. I’m a visible part of our community, so hopefully more people will see me and can hear me and see who I am, and it will help our position.”

Fox is “looking for the day that transsexuals in sports, and in this sport particularly, aren’t looked at with a raised eyebrow.”

“I think in a long enough timeline, we’ll get there,” she said. “In any group there is always a push back, especially if you’re new or people don’t understand it.” 

Having gone through what Fox has gone through, having the courage to completely change her life without having the ability to go back, you would be inclined to think she may have some self-reproach.

“I don’t regret anything," Fox admitted. “I’m happy that I am the person that I am, and I don’t regret anything I’ve done so far. I’m proud of my accomplishments.”

“I’m the first one and I plan on continuing being the pioneer that everyone has said that I am,” Fox said with pride, as if she was envisioning her whole journey. 

At 37 years of age, the MMA career of Fox may have just started, but the story of her journey has already left an indelible mark in the annals of sport, and her battle to pursue happiness continues each day.

“Once you have it and it’s in you and you are truly a fighter, it will never leave you," Fox said. "It will always be a part of you.”


Michael Stets is an MMA featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.


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