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Cheeky

Is it fair that sex sells in women's mixed martial arts?

Over a decade ago, on Episode One of ProWMMA Now!, respected matchmaker and manager Sam Wilson argued that it's wrong for promotions to play up sex appeal in the sport. She talked first about the early days of WMMA.

"Back then it was like a sideshow," 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.' It was more of a sideshow back then. To see it from backstage as opposed to what the fans see, and to 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 one of the elite places, because they are there as athletes and fighters, as opposed to women and sex symbols and sideshows.

"So I'm glad some of the promotions are actually seeing the females as athletes, and not the sideshow, 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."

Former UFC strawweight and current BKFC bare knuckle boxer Felice Herrig has a somewhat different perspective on WMMA and sex appeal.

"I think the biggest downside is when people think that's all I am or all I care about," said Herrig to Brian Hemminger for MMAMania. "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 they 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 woman outside the sport 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.

In the end, is it fair that women who play up sex appeal do better?

With that question posed, here are some stories playing with the prurient side of martial arts, a little sex to go with the violence.