Every time I spar or roll (generally with men), I tell my opponent not to treat me like a girl. I can tell when you’re taking it easy on me, even in the slightest way. It could be the look in your eye, the half-second pause before you execute an arm bar, the lightening up of your weight on my ribcage. Frankly, I hate it. Don’t treat me like a girl. I’m a fighter.
There has been a slow uptake of female cagefighting—there is no female UFC division, but women do compete in Strikeforce and with lesser-known organizations. Women are hindered in part by the attitude that training females in martial arts is acceptable, but “I don’t need to see ladies pummel each other in a cage.” Ladies playing soccer, basketball and tennis? Ok. Ladies going all out; no holds barred; tap, nap or snap? Not so much.
There are two issues here. One, are women interested in watching cagefighting at all? The answer to this is easy—yes. UFC President Dana White quoted a stat that in 2011, 45% of the UFC fanbase was female. So, we’ll certainly watch men fight. But, the second and more controversial question is, does this audience want to see women fight?
I could spend hours arguing the justice of whether there should be a female division in the UFC. Do I think it’s fair that there isn’t a female division? No. Can my opinion influence change? Maybe. Is there a more efficient way to strengthen female MMA’s hold on the market? Yes: combat the barriers.
White says female fights don’t generate revenue. It’s an understandable concern—the UFC is a business after all. So, let’s demonstrate that female fighters can draw the numbers. Let’s address how we get people into seats, how we get them to engage with fighters, how we get the potential audiences to want our “product”?
Another barrier is that there will be too much negative media around women “beating each other up.” To the casual viewer, it may look like two people are stepping into the ring and simply throwing punches and kicks until the other guy gets knocked out. But, the truth of the art is that there are intense levels of skill needed, intricate techniques, an understanding of anatomy and which way your body should/shouldn’t bend, an incredible sense of timing, an eye for openings and a control of your own breathing and pace. A little bit of education will go a long way here.
The question is not whether we are capable to fight in and own this space, it’s how we entice and market ourselves to gain the support needed to create and sustain a female UFC division.