With season 20 of the Ultimate Fighter very much in the headlines there’s the usual media frenzy around the latest bunch of fighters to enter the house, there’s the rumour mill and the articles discussing the relative pros and cons of the respective fighters and their styles. But there was something present this time that you don’t habitually see. The endless speculation about which cast members might have a pillow fight, who might be bitching about who and of course, who’s the hottest.
I can’t fathom why, in an era where women’s MMA is gaining such momentum and so many doors are being opened for women within the sport it should be considered acceptable to sexualise almost every aspect of their involvement. Unless, could it be that the female athletes themselves are often not only allowing it but positively encouraging it?
In MMA generally to secure good sponsorship you have to be a good fighter, have a good media persona and be a unique and talked about character. It seems that for women you have another option…to look good in your underwear or less and be prepared to market yourself accordingly.
It’s been commonplace since the dawn of time, and especially the dawn of media, to use overt female sexuality to market products but it’s something that professional sports women generally shy away from. Sports stars such as Rebecca Adlington, Venus and Serena Williams, Paula Radcliffe and numerous others I could name have built lucrative careers with world class sponsorships and endorsements off the back of their abilities and not how they look in their underwear, and they’re respected accordingly. Why then in MMA is there such a trend for women at all levels of the sport to post provocative and sexual pictures of themselves in both the conventional and social media in connection with their athletic endeavour?
I should add here that this does not apply to all women in the sport, there are some stand out female fighters at all levels who sell themselves on their abilities, their performance and their personalities. They rarely get to enjoy the popularity, media coverage and airtime awarded those who like to post the odd suggestive bikini shot though.
This isn’t something I know the answer to, my best guess would be a combination of a few factors: firstly that MMA is a heavily male dominated sport with a largely male fan base. This means that the athletes are out for male approval, for men this means being ‘lads’ – but women will often revert to what they know – sometimes that’s sexual, sometimes that’s being even more laddish than the lads and sometimes it’s keeping your head down and getting on with being the best you can be.
Secondly, there’s a whole adult industry geared around the idea of two females ‘fighting’ for viewers gratification. I’m thinking the lingerie fight leagues, the overtly pornographic submission wrestling and the ‘session wrestling’ where men can pay for an hour grappling with a woman. Again I know of professional fighters who propagate this idea by participating in those activities. Even top MMA promotions like Bellator fall foul of this, using scantily clad ring girls to demonstrate submissions for the viewers.
Thirdly, hot half naked chicks sell stuff – I guess that will never change. There are some standout exceptional fighters in the Strawweight division, people like Joanne Calderwood and Claudia Gadelha who go out and perform consistently without resorting to titilation to sell their brand. I really hope that TUF gives a hugely talented division in WMMA a chance to make a real impact on the MMA world rather that a novelty series. I also hope that those fighters in there understand their responsibility to represent the women of the sport well and not reinforce the existing, unhelpful, stereotypes.