What They Must Do To Survive In A Male Dominated Sport?
By Jillian Bullock
First, a little back story on the history of the UFC: Rorion Gracie, son of Helio, partnered with Art Davie, a salesman who had television connections and Bob Meyrowitz, who was president of Semaphore Entertainment Group (SEG). Together, the three men established the “Ultimate Fighting Championship,” or UFC, as it’s referred to, which held its first pay-per-view event in 1993.
As the UFC gained popularity, it became a target for many politicians who referred to mixed martial arts as ‘cock fighting,’ especially because there weren’t many rules-no weight classes, no time limits in rounds, and no mandatory safety equipment. This lead to competitors getting seriously injured or even death, in some cases. Politicians, like former Arizona Senator John McCain, launched a campaign against the UFC in an effort to get the fights banned from the U.S. The pressure forced the UFC to go underground with fights. That was until the franchise was purchased by Zuffa, LLC, a Las Vegas based media and casino management company. Owned by Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, they made several changes to the sport in order to gain respectability.
Zuffa president Dana White sought to turn the UFC into a “good, clean sport with actual rules.” Over time, the UFC and MMA started to gain respect as a professional sport like the NFL or the NBA. These changes made it possible for MMA to become sanctioned in the majority of states in the United States. Now new rules were in place, starting with weight classes, time limits for each round in what was called the Octagon, a cage, not a ring. The scoring system was also changed. A fighter could win a match by knockout or submission, or tap out, meaning a tap on the opponent’s body or mat or a verbal tap, a Technical knock-out (TKO), a Knock-out (KO), a doctor stoppage, or the fighter’s corner throws in the towel.
Now due to the male-dominated and brutal nature of MMA, which is considered much more violent than boxing, at first women were not welcomed by any organization, but that has changed. Although the UFC, who is considered the top dog in MMA fighting, will not touch female fighters, there are currently 31 promotional organizations for professional MMA; six have included female matches. Some of those organizations include, EliteXC, Smackgirl, Bodog Fight, Ultimate Warrior Challenge, and Strikeforce. The World Alliance of Mixed Martial Arts (WAMMA) instituted an official ranking of female MMA professional fighters and weight classes.
“Female MMA has experienced tremendous growth in recent years but many of the sport’s top women athletes are still being overlooked,” said WAMMA Rankings Committee Chair Sam Caplan.” With these rankings, WAMMA hopes to help bring greater awareness to the depth that exists in female MMA. We also hope that these rankings are used to create championships in multiple weight classes, which will in turn create bigger opportunities for female fighters.“
With more doors openings for female fighters, many men still have a difficult time seeing women get “choked out,” or have their faces mangled and bloodied during “ground and pound.” Since many men find it tough to see women get a “beat down,” it’s a challenge for female fighters to put butts in the seats, which means booking a venue, especially a pay-per-view match. Women fighters may open for male fighters, but they aren’t the draw. Until women can bring in more revenue for the organizations, they will not be the main event.
To put women on the map in MMA, to help them gain the respect, and to ensure that they will be around in the future, they need to have a stronger presence. The only way to do this is to persuade White to change his mind about females fighting in UFC, since everyone knows to fight in this organization means you have made it in MMA. However, that may not ever happen simply because White, who is the gatekeeper to who or what happens in the UFC, doesn’t feel women are financial viable. Also, it has been said that White loves sloppy slugfests, which is understandable considering his background as a former boxer. And sloppy slugfests are what the fans want to see, but since most men can’t stomach seeing a woman battered and bruised, well we’re back to that same dilemma once again.
However, Miesha Tate, who is the current bantamweight champion for Strikeforce says White’s distaste for women fighters in the MMA is rooted in ignorance, and she is set to change his mind. For some time it was Gina Carano who many thought would change White’s mind. She is considered one of the greatest MMA female fighters today. Not only is Carano popular with the male fans due to her strikingly attractive looks, but she can also actually fight and put on a good show when she is in the cage. In fact, Carano, who holds a professional fight record of 7-1, is considered an elite draw because her fights have pulled in big numbers, many times on par with the numbers big name male UFC fighters draw. Another badass, tough-as-nails fighter is Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos, who is the current Strikeforce welterweight champion with a record of 10-1. She may not be as popular as Carano, but her fighting skills prove she does have what it takes to fight in the UFC.
In 2008, Michael Rome, a reporter, actually did extensive research in an attempt to help MMA fans understand why White refused to allow women fighters in the UFC. At that time, White was trying to get politicians and lawmakers to understand that the UFC was more than just cock fighting. If he wanted to put women in the Octagon, White felt that definitely would create more PR nightmares, which the UFC didn’t need. Images of bloody women on TV was in the same category as seeing women come home battered, injured or missing body parts if they were allowed to fight in combat in the military. Nobody wants to see those images.
Since the UFC has now established itself as a legitimate sanctioned organization in several states and overseas and lawmakers are much more accepting of MMA, then it all comes down to business and money. Even White can’t deny that. If any fighters can bring more money, more attention, and more excitement to the UFC it would be Carano and Santos, who have proven they can bring in the money and put butts in the seat. This was clearly demonstrated at their fight in 2009 where Carano lost to Santos by TKO in the first round, earning Santos the championship belt. Due to exceptional promotion by Strikeforce the interest in seeing these two women fight was far better than anyone ever expected. According to Strikeforce, and confirmed by Spike TV officials, the Carano vs. Cyborg fight drew an average audience of 576,000 viewers. It was one of the biggest shows in Strikeforce history and the first female event that headlined a major MMA card. So, if business is all about making money that means in the future White may be forced to succumb to the pressure of those who actually do what to see women fight in the UFC. When that happens there’s no doubt that women’s MMA will not only survive, but thrive in the years to come.
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