A transgender woman will fight a man at an MMA event in Brazil next month, marking perhaps the first publicized matchup of its kind in the history of the sport.
Anne Veriato, a 21-year-old brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, will be making her MMA debut when she takes on Railson Paixao in a strawweight bout at Mr. Cage 34 on March 10.
As a transgender woman who has been competing against and beating men in jiu-jitsu tournaments since she was seven years old, Veriato said it never occurred to her to fight another woman.
"It's only fair to fight men," she told MMA Fighting's Guilherme Cruz this week. "It never crossed my mind to fight a woman because I think I'm too good. ... I don't think it's fair to fight women."
Event promoter Samir Nadaf—who is also Veriato’s manager—agreed, and said he would only sign Veriato to compete in MMA if she agreed to a match against a man.
"This [fighter] is a phenom in jiu-jitsu," Nadaf told Cruz. "[She] asked me for an opportunity. My answer was 'I can give you an opportunity, but at Mr. Cage, men fight men, it doesn't matter if you have a penis or not. If you were born a man, you'll fight a man.' [She] said 'that's exactly what I want.'"
The fight will be contested at 115 pounds and Veriato said she is hoping it is just the first in a long, successful MMA career.
"I know that a lot of people will talk [with] a lot of prejudice," Veriato said. "There are a lot of people rooting for me, especially after they start to know my story, but some still don't respect me. They think I just want attention. They will only respect me after I have a few fights."
In the United States, transgender fighter Fallon Fox drew controversy while amassing a record of 5-1 from 2012-14, fighting against cisgender women—meaning athletes whose gender identity corresponds with their birth sex.
Before stepping away from the sport in 2015, Fox garnered support from some in the MMA community, but also drew criticism from some other fighters, including Ronda Rousey.
Mr. Cage 34 will be held in Manaus, Brazil.