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The Challenges Women MMA Fighters Face

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By Jillian Bullock

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When former professional Philadelphia boxer Jacqui Frazier (Joe’s daughter) used to train for upcoming fights she had to concern herself with three children, a husband and her law firm. Unlike males fighters, women who train for sporting events where they compete must still contend with all these other “womanly” duties. Like Frazier, who is now retired from boxing and has traded in her gloves for a judge’s robe in Philadelphia courts, most people don’t realize exactly what goes into the life of a female MMA fighter.

Cristiane Cyborg Santos

Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos

It takes a delicate balance for a female fighter to try and do it all. The work/training/school/family responsibilities can be tough and to overcome the hurdles this balancing act can be made even more difficult if a woman doesn’t have a good support system; someone  like a spouse or mother or father, who can help her with the kids, food shopping, cleaning the house, cooking dinner or getting the children ready for school.

Unlike male MMA fighters, who usually have a wife or a girlfriend who will take care of the children and other household duties, females still have to contend with these responsibilities. For them training for a fight can be more psychological than physical because they want to be a wonderful mother and wife and they also want to be a great fighter.

When a woman steps into a ring or cage the fans only want to see an exciting match, and maybe some blood and sweat. They have no idea what those two fighters had to do to prepare for combat. Along with the family duties, most female MMA fighters don’t have the luxury of training exclusively. Most of them have to hold down a job to help supplement the family income or perhaps be the lone financial supporter if she is a single mother.


“So how do female MMA fighters balance being a fighter, a mother, a wife, hold down a 9 to 5 job or go to college?”

Patricia Vidonic states: I have to live a structured lifestyle, which I prefer. Balancing training, family time and resting isn’t as hard as some make it out to be. I am self-employed, and training is my job too. I shouldn’t have too many problems. Stuff happens though.”

Roxanne Modafferi is one of top Women MMA fighters at the 135 division. She must make time to train along with keeping her day job, which is teaching Japanese children to speak English.

Danika Johnston, a MMA fighter out of Philadelphia, holds a PhD in Genetics and works a full-time job at Thomas Jefferson Hospital. She also teaches MMA part-time where she trains.

Trying to maintain a job, balance family, and train can take its toll on a woman’s mental state, which get many fighters to thinking: exactly why am I doing this? It’s certainly not for the pay, which isn’t enough to care for a family. Fighters, males or females, don’t see big bucks unless they become champions.

When Casey Bohrman, a professional MMA fighter from Philadelphia got kicked in the head at one of her fights, she became disoriented and the match was stopped. Her opponent won by TKO. When I asked Casey, who is working on her PhD, why she fights, she replied, “It’s tough. It’s something I think about all the time, especially when I get hurt. But it’s the challenge of it. It’s the fact that not many people can get in there and do what I do. And I know I have the talent, so I want to keep going.”


“When my nose broke, I got angry. I had this overwhelming drive to kick ass. I got the takedown and was just raining punches down. After the fight my nose was busted and my face beat-up, but I knew I loved this sport. I knew I had what it takes to be a champion.”

When MMA fight Miesha Tate uttered those words one of the questions that started buzzing wasn’t should women fight, but can they fight at a level where they will ever be able to showcase their skills without getting serious injured? Tate’s statement would have gotten a male MMA fighter praise for being a true warrior, one who refused to give up, but not a woman. Most men still aren’t comfortable seeing a woman get the crap beat out of her. But forget the sexism we know exists in the MMA when it comes to women fighting. What may actually be an issue is the difference in a man’s body and a woman’s body when it comes to combat in a ring or cage.

Since a woman’s body carries more fat than a man’s, and when it comes to her menstruation cycle she can easily put on an extra five pounds from water weight, so many times she must resort to an almost starvation diet to cut weight for a fight. This is one of the reasons why sixty-two percent of female athletes report eating disorders. They have an extensive period where they must restrict their caloric intake, especially for an upcoming fight.

Women who also want to get pregnant must realize that the intense training and dieting over a period of time can stop ovulation and the nutritional and hormonal irregularities can lead to osteoporosis. But on the flip side, Dr. Matt Pitt, who has studied male and female athletes, states that women do have some major advantages over men when it comes to athletics.  As he notes, ”Female skin heals more rapidly and women recover more quickly from exertion and injury.  Women have superior immune systems, protecting them from infection.  Fascinatingly, women also have a greater density of neurons in many parts of their brain. This may give female fighters a precious advantage in enduring repeated brain injury.


When it comes to training options for women they are at a disadvantage. It’s not that they couldn’t train with guys at their train, but when it comes to preparing for a fight, just like male MMA fighters a woman needs to train and spar with another female who is in her weight class and who has a similar fight style to the opponent she will be up against in the ring. Also, male fighters have numerous schools, instructors, high end camps, and an unlimited supply of training partners, but this isn’t the case with women. Since women’s MMA is newer and less developed their options are extremely limited. Women fighters have less people to help them, especially considering that some schools still don’t train females on the same level and with the same dedication as they do their male fighters.

To be a MMA fighter, it takes discipline, hard work, determination, focus and the understanding that you will endure a lot of pain. This profession is not for the weak, mentally, emotionally or physically. It takes a fierce psychological mindset to get inside a cage, take and give blows, and believe you will be victorious despite whether you are a man or a woman.

However, if you are a female who wants to get started in Mixed Martial Arts here are a few tips: take your time to find a good school, one where the price is reasonable, one where the instructors have great teaching skills and are fighters themselves; a school where the members and instructors encourage one another and treat each other with respect, one where the instructors train the females equally with the males. Make sure you go to the school, talk to the instructors, and have a free session or two before you sign any contract. Most important, make sure you have a good support system outside of training. You’ll need it to handle the ups and downs that come with being a MMA fighter. The road to become a champion is long, it’s hard, it’s disappointing and it’s frustrating at times. However, in the end when the referee raises your hand and straps that championship belt around your waist, all your blood, sweat and tears will be well worth the effort and sacrifice.

About Jillian Bullock

Jillian Bullock has written 28 post in this blog.

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6 Comments For This Post

  1. Brad Q. Says:

    So what do you think about women fighting while pregnant? I heard a while back there was a lady who fought an MMA match while pregnant. Should there be pregnancy tests before fights to make sure or is it up to the woman?

  2. Jillian B. Says:

    Brad, I do feel women should be tested before they fight. In fact, when I used to have a fight for boxing or martial arts I was tested on the same day as the fight; one of those home pregnancy kits. An official went with us females right in the bathroom and watched as we took care of our business, just to make sure we weren’t doing something foul.

    I was under the impression that this was still done.

  3. Laura Says:

    I’ve taken a pregnancy test before every MMA fight. I’m sure there are some shady promotions out there that skip it, but any sanctioned fight I’ve ever heard of or been a part of requires them.

  4. SchenkMMA Says:

    Jillian I just wanted to tell you what a great job you did on this article and how much I appreciate you taking the time to research this article. This article was very well written and I can tell that you gave this topic a lot of thought. I will definitely be reading more of your work going forward.

  5. Jillian Bullock Says:

    Thanks for the feedback about the research I did for the article. It’s part of my journalism background. I try to be as thorough as possible when writing any story.

  6. LR Says:

    Usually, men have superior immune systems, female skin doesn’t heal rapidly and women’s brains don’t have that much neurons either.

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