Our discussion about gender and feminism reminded me of one of my favorite distractions: Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), also known as “ultimate fighting.” There is a hot topic in MMA that is ripe for analysis (aside from the homoerotic spectacle of two men performing no holds barred S&M in a cage for thousands of voyeuristic fans). Even though most critics of the violent competition are slowly coming around to accept that strict regulation has turned the spectacle into a sport, the debut of female MMA still seems unsettling to the public and even some MMA fans.
Female MMA has been around about as long as the male version, but it’s popularity is a recent phenomenon. The apparent reason for the increased attention is Gina “Conviction” Carano. Whereas many female fighters elicit little response from the mostly male MMA fans and the casual viewing public, Carano turns heads like a Victoria Secret model. If it weren’t for her impressive record and strong Muay Thai kickboxing skills, her rise to stardom could easily be written off as pure sexual objectification (and yes, that’s her as “Crush” in American Gladiators)
The Hottie and the Fattie
MMA fans and male fighters are divided on female fighting, often saying that they don’t think it is a woman’s place to fight or they don’t want to see a woman getting hurt. Although the skills utilized by female fighters are equivalent to the male fighters, seeing a woman physically dominating and/or being dominated (especially if the fighter’s face is bleeding or swelling) seems to unsettle fans and critics alike. This isn’t unique to female fighting, but it is pronounced. In Gina’s last fight, which happened to be the debut of MMA on primetime network TV, she battered Kaitlin Young’s face until one eye was slightly gruesome. In a men’s fight, the competition would have continued. But, in this case, the doctor decided to call a stop at the end of the 2nd round. Young has consistently protested, demonstrating her “heart” and fighting spirit, despite the fact that she was losing badly. She was not concerned about her appearance or her safety. Instead, these standards were put upon her.
On Saturday, Oct. 4th, Gina will step back into the cage on primetime network TV. Despite her relatively demure demeanor, she will receive excessive attention for her looks. Gina will be treated as the first and only relevant female MMA fighter, while other women have been cast aside for appearing too manly or not pretty enough (Tara LaRosa is the #1 ranked female fighter and can’t get a deal with a major promotion).
If it isn’t clear enough that body image plays a significant role in the sport of mixed martial arts, the same is actually true for men as well. Roy Nelson is an up and coming fighter who has been refused opportunities to fight by promotions because he is not appealing to look at and he openly mocks athleticism. Ironically, he is competing on the same card as Gina this weekend, likely as a spectacle intended to appeal to viewers interested in cartoonish contrast (his opponent is built like a greek god). I know this is last minute notice, but I dare my classmates to watch this event on Saturday and respond with some analysis of your own. Is Gina a liberal feminist? Is her opponent a radical feminist for “fighting like a man”? What will the response be if Gina’s popular facial features get rearranged? Response comments will elicit more salacious tidbits.
To be continued…