Is it fair that sex sells in WMMA?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Earlier this 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 in WMMA. 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.

“So I’m glad it is where it is and I’m glad some of the promotions are actually seeing the females as athletes and not the side show and not the sexy females out there fighting, ring girl status or whatever you want to call it. So yeah I do enjoy seeing that part of it. Promotions still have to grow and accept that these are women athletes first, think your mom, your daughter, your aunt, your sister or whatever. To think they are up there as sex symbols and have the guys go ‘oh yeah’ and what’s going through their minds as opposed to seeing them as athletes, so there’s still a little bit of growth needs for that as opposed to being the sexier side of female MMA and seeing them as athletes, female athletes.”

Invicta strawweight Felice Herrig has a somewhat different perspective on WMMA and sex appeal.

“I think the biggest downside is is when people think that’s all I am or all I care about,” said Herrig in a recent interview with MMAMania’s Brian Hemminger. “I’m not just a fighter. I’m not just a girl, a daughter or a sister. You can’t just be labeled or categorized as one thing. That’s not all I’m about. I’ve always wanted to be a star. It’s not even the sexy side, I’m a girl. I love playing dress-up and what girls don’t? I like feeling beautiful and every girl wants to feel beautiful for who they are.

“I play up the sexy side, but I’m not playing. 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 the see a woman that wouldn’t strike you as a fighter.

“There’s so many women that I see in MMA that are beautiful and I love that you can see them as a women outside the spot and you wouldn’t even know they were a fighter, but when they step into the cage, another side comes out for them and they just start destroying. I love it. 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.”

In the end, mixed martial arts is as real as it gets, and sex appeal without skill doesn’t have legs. If all a female MMA fighter is is sexy, without the requisite skill, the consequences are an immediate beating, followed by another beating or beatings, followed by quitting.

Still, if there are two female fighters with equivalent skill, and one plays up the sex appeal and another doesn’t, the former is likely to get more fights, with a higher profile, and more money, because sex appeal puts asses in seats.

The same argument can be made over male MMA. UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre has broken far into the mainstream, in no small part because he has an appeal to both men and women. However GSP is 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.

The UFC recently signed Russian female fighter Alexandra Albu. Albu is a fitness model, with remarkable sex appeal, which undoubtedly played a role in her getting the most conveted contract in the sport, as she has only five MMA fights, four of them smokers in Thailand. Is that fair?

Is in the end, 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.

And what’s your favorite Felice Herrig image? The sexy ones or the ass kicking ones, or is there a difference?