There is a continuing debate in women's mixed martial arts about the role of sex appeal.
In a recent interview with Brazil's Tatame, Invicta FC lightweight Ediane "India" Gomes came down firmly on the side that sex appeal has no place in WMMA, and took firm aim at the UFC.
"The (female) fighters in the UFC are more worried about showing their asses than actually fighting," said Gomes as translated by Guilherme Cruz for MMAFighting. "MMA has become a new thing because of Ronda, but she’s actually one of the few real fighters. To be in the UFC, you have to show your ass. They should just put some strippers to brawl in there, it would be better."
"Ronda deserves to be where she is now. I don’t see any fighter to beat her. The only one that could give her some trouble is Amanda Nunes. Nobody else can take her title. She’s good in what she does. The others are terrible. A bunch of cans. I say this and I’m not ashamed of it. It’s ridiculous. I dream about fighting in the UFC to show the other fighters that they need to train more. Miesha is good, but she should stay as a model so she can make more money."
Gomes plans to challenge Cris Cyborg and then cut down to 135 and fight in the UFC.
"She likes to brawl. I have a lot of respect for her," said Gomes. "She’s a great athlete, everybody sees that. When we get inside the cage and the bell rings, we are going to brawl to get what we want. She’s better-rounded compared to the time when she was the Strikeforce champion. She has a good takedown defense, is aggressive, and has heavy hands. I have to surprise her. I could be stupid and stand against her, but I’m training boxing for two years now."
"I’m the underdog. That’s good. When people are all over you is dangerous because you become cocky. I want to surprise. Cyborg is the best in the world and I’m happy to fight her. No women in MMA were capable of beating her, so I will try. It’s going to be a war. I always wanted to fight her and I know that a win over her puts me in another level."
Late last year, on Episode One of ProWMMA Now!, respected matchmaker and manager Sam Wilson argued that it is wrong for promotions to play up sex appeal.
She talked first about the early days of WMMA.
"Back then it was like a side show," said Wilson. "Let's bring the pretty women out there and have them fight and have all the men go frickin' crazy like 'ohhh yeahh yeahh,' so it was more of a side show back then. To see it form backstage as opposed to what the fans see and see what the women had to go through to get to where they are, it's like 'wow you know?' It's about time they do get center stage through the cards, Invicta being like one of the elite places because they are there as athletes and fighters as opposed to women and sex symbols and side shows."
Then Invicta and now UFC strawweight Felice Herrig offfered a differing but not opposite perspective on WMMA and sex appeal.
"I play up the sexy side, but I'm not playing," said Herrig to MMAMania's Brian Hemminger. "I'm being me. I'm not doing anything I'm uncomfortable with. A lot of people think that's what I'm all about and that I don't care about my fighting, that I spend more time promoting myself than training. There's only so much time in the day. I'm more dedicated than any other woman I've met and most of the guys. At the same time, fighting is a business. I'm promoting my brand. With women athletes, you get a lot more opportunities. It's more intriguing to the general public if they see a woman that wouldn't strike you as a fighter.
"The only downside I see is people labeling you, saying you're disrespecting the sport or that you're not taking it serious. I think it's harder to walk that line of being a woman, promoting that sexy side, but also being on top of your game."
Regardless of the appropriate role of sex appeal in WMMA, if a female MMA fighter is is sexy but lacks skill, she will get beaten up until she quits.
Still, if there are two female fighters with equivalent skill, and one plays up the sex appeal and another doesn't, the former will get more fights, with a higher profile, and more money, because sex appeal puts asses in seats.
The same thing can happen in male MMA. Former UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre broke far into the mainstream, in no small part because he has an appeal to both men and women. However GSP was making $5,000,000 per fight, and no one is denigrating him over his looks. The same cannot be said about any female fighter in the world.
A parallel process is at work in male combat sports with size. Larger males generally get paid more, even if their skill is not equivalent to that of the fighters at 145, 135, and 125. At some point the UFC is going to have a 115 pound male division, and no one in the West is going to care. Is that fair?
Is is fair that women who play up sex appeal do better? What message does that send? Even if it is a reflection of human nature, not everything that is natural is right.