If you are my buddy on Facebook you probably saw me post this yesterday:
I despise this photo. For those of you who have better things to do with your time than watch women pummel each other inside a cage, these are two female UFC fighters, Cat Zingano and Miesha Tate, right after their pre-fight weigh-in.. They fought last night in what was only the second ever women's UFC bout. But when I look at this photo I do not think fighting. I think Spring Break. I think hot tub. I think of that awkward moment where a giant wave knocks your bikini top off and you have to stagger out of the water while simultaneously trying to cover your goodies and not drown. And guys could not possibly look at this without imagining what would happen if they untied those strings.
Can you blame them?
I know that male UFC fighters often weigh in in their underwear and I would have been less disgusted had these two been wearing tiny sports bras and iity bitty bike shorts. Even the most minimal of athletic clothing would have been better than an outfit that belongs poolside. Trust me, despite their six pack abs, nothing about this photo says athlete.
I understand that professional MMA is a show. That the UFC promotes entertainment. That Dana White has dollar signs where his eyes should be. I get all that. But when female fighters weigh in in string bikinis it sends the message that they are sex symbols first and fighters second. It implies that the only way men will ever watch female fighting is if a wardrobe malfunction is inevitable. It says, "Sure ya'll are tough athletes but all anyone really wants to see is your T&A. " It is insulting, demeaning, and downright icky.
During the Facebook discussion that the pic prompted, one of my friends said this: Isn't the marketing of fighting and wrestling always aimed at the lowest common denominator? He does have a point. Mens MMA is marketed as a brutal bloodsport where at any moment you could see teeth fly out. bones break, or a guy hit the mat, unconscious. It appeals to the basest of human desires, the desire to see pure violence played out in right front of you. Fighters are modern day Gladiators. But it is a little awkward to sell women in the same way. We don't like to picture our mommies and daughters with broken noses. Even I, a woman who has been sparring for over twenty years, am a little uncomfortable with an image of a lady with blood dripping down her face. So if we can't highlight violence, what is left to appeal to fans but sex?
Which begs the question: do we need more respect for female athletes in general? Or do we need to convince the general public that fighting is actually a sport, akin to baseball, football, table tennis? I mean even after Ronda Rousey made her historic UFC debut, there was no mention of it anywhere in the NY Times. I guess they figured that the nice, well educated old ladies on the Upper West Side don't want to read about arm bars.
I read the NY Times. And watch fighting. And really like arm bars. Am I an anomaly?
As for the fight last night, it was awesome. Both fighters showed skilled techniques, on their feet and on the ground. Cat Zingano's knee kicks were brutal. It was a nice change from women's boxing, which even at its best always looks to me like two trees randomly swaying in a hurricane. These two ladies looked like well trained athletes. Were they as good as the men? No, but why do they have to be? Men and women don't usually fight each other. Nothing makes me roll my eyes faster than the argument that female sports won't have the same appeal as male sports until the ladies can dunk like the guys. Can't female athletes just be admired on their own merit? Do we have to always compare them to their male counterparts?
By the way, both ladies wore perfectly appropriate fight attire. My apologies for those of you who were hoping for an accidental peep show.
The bottom line, for me anyway, is this. If female athletes want to pose nude for Playboy in order to further their careers, it is fine with me. Just keep it off the court. If men only watch ladies MMA for the cheap thrill it gives them, that is their prerogative. But we do not need to cater to them. And those of you who think there is no place for women in the fighting world have a right to your opinion. I'm not going to try to change it. But the organizations that promote these athletes should portray them as serious athletes first, ones worthy of respect and admiration. Save the sexy wear for the after party.