Over the last year, veteran fighter Felice Herrig has quietly transformed from being part-fighter, part-social media personality to a legitimate contender in the UFC's strawweight division. And at UFC Fight Night 112 on Sunday in Oklahoma City, she posted what could be the best win of her 12-year combat sports career in her under-the-radar bout with Justine Kish.
But why has that transformation been quiet? Why was her fight under the radar? According to Herrig, it's because she doesn't fit into the UFC's narrow mold of a "promotable" female fighter.
"I think that I had one bad performance, and because I'm a veteran in this sport, you can't look at me as this new up-and-comer that they can be like, 'This girl is going to be the next big thing,'" she said in the UFC Fight Night 112 post-fight press conference (via MMAFighting.com's Danny Segura). "I already solidified myself in this sport ... I've fought some of the best and fought completely out of my weight class in so many fights."
Herrig's gripe is valid there. Man or woman, the UFC has proved itself less than inclined to invest in aged fighters over the years, with surging competitors often forced to toil away on undercards despite looking phenomenal for extended periods of time (38-year-old Francisco Trinaldo being a great recent example).
As she said that and her voice cracked more and more, however, it was easy to tell that there was a deeper gripe. She didn't try to hide it, either, and continued her thoughts.
"Honestly, if you want to know the truth, sometimes I feel like I'm not young and beautiful for the UFC to want to promote me. ... It's hard to see these people who've not been through what I’ve been through who just got to the UFC at the right time, and they’re getting all these opportunities," she said. "I see how hard I've worked to get here, and it doesn't matter because I’m not pretty enough and I'm not getting any younger, so I don’t know."
It's hard to argue with her, insofar as the UFC prioritizing, highlighting and promoting women's physical appearance over actual in-cage accomplishments. There are numerous examples of the UFC, openly or subtly, focusing on the beauty of a handful of its competitors rather than any actual sport-related credentials, which the promotion has been criticized for many times over the years.
Unfortunately, it seems there is little Herrig can do to shake the UFC from this approach. That said, she plainly stated that she is far from alone in feeling this way, and, as such, her colleagues and fans could back her up and possibly place pressure on the UFC over the coming weeks.