Wednesday, November 30, 2011

MMAFighting’s Ben Fowlkes discusses whether it should matter if a female fighter is hot.

The problem for women’s MMA hasn’t been a lack of skill from the fighters — it’s a lack of interest from the fans. For whatever reason, a lot of the same people who love to see two men beat each other up just aren’t into watching two women do the same thing. I don’t know why that is, honestly, and I’m not sure it matters. You can tell people that they should like and support women’s MMA. You can tell them they’re a bunch of jerks if they only want to see pretty girls fighting. That might make a few people feel bad about themselves, but it won’t create many new fans.

It shouldn’t be enough to be pretty. I don’t just mean in MMA, either. Whether you’re a man or a woman, good looks might be a minor win in the genetic lottery, but they don’t make you a good or talented or even worthwhile person. We know this, even if we don’t always act like it. To give a good-looking person special considerations just because we like looking at their face is embarrassingly dumb, not to mention unfair. That’s why it makes for such a fascinating internal conflict for a women’s division that’s still struggling with its own identity.

No one wants to see women’s MMA become a sideshow where untalented, untrained pretty girls fight it out in sports bras for the sexual satisfaction of a caveman crowd. At least, I hope no one wants that, and if they do there are websites specifically for them (I’ve heard there are, anyway). At the same time, just as in the men’s division, promote-ability matters. Brock Lesnar got a title shot after three fights — which, in retrospect, still seems insane — because he sold tickets and pay-per-views.

Some fans and fighters might want to see MMA become an egalitarian utopia where none of that matters, but in the meantime promoters still have to market their product to the world that is rather than the world that could or should be.

The good news is, MMA has a built-in lie detector to keep anyone from skating by on looks or attitude or popularity for too long, and that’s the same for the women as it is for the men. If you can’t fight, we’ll find out soon enough. Eventually some ugly, boring person will punch you in the face until you can’t stand up, and that will be that. Facial symmetry might be a useful gift, but it doesn’t hold up too well in a sport that allows elbow strikes on the ground.

As Josh Barnett likes to say, the business of fighting has very little to do with actual fighting, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important. This conflict — trying to give fans what they want but without losing your identity or self-respect in the process — might turn out to be an ongoing and inescapable struggle for women’s MMA. And maybe that’s okay. In a sport that’s all about conflict in its various forms, you could do a lot worse than have public arguments that lead to publicized fights.

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