Last night while flipping through the TV channels and wondering why Carlos Mencia isn’t dead from a combination of self-loathing and bullets, I caught a commercial for this weekend’s Elite XC event on Showtime. I don’t have Showtime on my TV set, and I’m not about to order it, but I got a little excited for this card upon seeing the ad.
What’s not to like about it? Robbie Lawler’s taking on the lesser of two Rua’s (“Ninja”), Nick Diaz is back in action after serving his six-month suspension for marijuana (totally harsh), and Jake Shields is fighting “Charuto” Verrisimo, which is a much more interesting match than Shields, or anyone, fighting Antonio McKee.
But what really caught my eye was the plug for another women’s MMA fight by Elite XC, again featuring the undeniably-skilled Gina Carano. This time she’ll be facing twenty-three-year-old Tonya Evinger, but that’s not really the point, is it? The point is that two women are fighting and one of them is Gina Carano, who is both a good fighter and a good-looking woman. And not just a good-looking woman for a female fighter, either.
I mean, who are we kidding? That’s why Elite XC is putting this fight on. If Carano were just a good fighter, would she be on this card? I doubt it. The appeal just isn’t there. If it was, they might be trying to build more female MMA stars than just her. Perhaps the more important question is, if Carano were just good-looking and only a mediocre fighter, would she be on the card? I think she might.
It’s this kind of question that makes it difficult for me to get into women’s MMA. I can’t shake the feeling that the people promoting it and making money from it are doing so for the wrong reasons.
Not long ago I had a conversation with female MMA fighter Debi Purcell about this very subject. She’s been in this sport for years and started the website FighterGirls.com to help women competitors find bouts. But even Purcell had to admit that the sport attracted an unsavory element at times.
Naturally, there are the emails she gets from men who aren’t into MMA as a sport, but would really like to see women wrestle around on the mat (don’t they know there are websites for this kind of thing…or so I’ve heard).
And then there are the promoters who just see it as a sideshow attraction, something to differentiate them from other MMA shows and help them draw the Foxy Boxing crowd to get a few more butts in the seats.
I guess what I’m saying is it all comes down to respect. Do people respect women’s MMA as a sport, or is it just something weird and different? Are they looking for good fighters, or just hot chicks who can pass for fighters? Then again, does it even matter? I’m sure some would argue that it’s good enough for someone to be putting these fights on TV, regardless of their intentions, because at least it gives female fighters a platform and a paycheck.
I can understand that sentiment, especially if you’re one of the women trying to make it as a fighter. They train hard and they deserve some recognition and some cash, just like the men do. But I can’t help but feel that if we don’t at least ask these questions now, one day we’re going to look up and Gina Carano will be fighting Tonya Harding in a mud pit on pay-per-view.
The truth is that fighting isn’t like other sports. You can watch women’s tennis without being forced to deal with inner conflicts about the nature of competition, violence, and gender equality.
Fighting is far more visceral. If people are putting women’s fights on TV because they are athletes who are as entertaining as men, fine. That’s great for everyone. But if that’s what they’re really trying to do, maybe they should try promoting more than just one female fighter.