While plenty of other Canadians were obsessing over hockey this week, I was looking forward to UFC 170, in which as-yet-undefeated bantamweight champ Ronda Rousey would take on former Olympic wrestler Sara McMann. Those of you who care might already know that McMann didn’t manage to end Rousey’s domination of the division, though instead of ending the match with her signature arm bar, Rousey TKO’d McMann with a knee – admittedly with some controversy around whether or not the referee ended the match too early.
But that’s not what I want to talk about at the moment.
I want to talk about the future of women in the UFC. Fans might know that the UFC is planning on adding a female strawweight (115 lbs) division, in addition to the existing bantamweight (135lb) division. And I think that’s pretty great since it means more opportunity out there for female fighters. On the other hand, the cynic in me wonders what motivated the decision to add this division rather than another. I know they can’t do everything at once, but the issue of female athletes and weight is, well, complicated. While journalists don’t report the weights of many female athletes, it’s pretty much inevitable in MMA, or any other fighting sport. So could it be that the UFC is playing it safe by adding more female athletes who are likely to be conventionally good looking and, well, marketable?
I’m sure there’s a lot I don’t know about the politics behind it all, and there are certainly plenty of talented strawweight fighters. But there has also been a thriving division of talented featherweight (145lb) fighters for quite some time. In fact, Cris “Cyborg” Justino has recently called out Rousey, and wants to drop divisions to fight her. Gina Carano used to fight in that division and is now making action movies. There’s no shortage of amazing women there who already have a fan base.
Maybe this has some selfish motivation, but I want to see some heavier women fighting. And by “heavier,” I mean “heavier than the current fighters,” since 145 lbs is not exactly heavy, and that was about the heaviest women’s MMA division I could find much media coverage for. The world is already saturated with images of super-thin women who can apparently kick anyone’s ass. (See: basically any action movie with a female central character) We need to see something else as well.
This might also be a good time to point out that even the super-sexy Rousey has to cut plenty of weight to fight as a bantamweight. Her Olympic Judo career was spent at 155 lbs. So let’s not even entertain the thought that there aren’t talented female fighters over 135 lbs. I’ve met plenty of great female heavyweight fighters in taekwondo. I’m sure MMA has them as well. And, fine, I don’t deny that sexualizing the fighters could just be arguably a good way of getting more people to watch them fight. But anyone who watches fights knows that, while some fighters (male and female) have conventionally hot bodies, there’s not too much of a correlation between how hot you look and how you perform in the ring.
So how about it, UFC? How about some women at lightweight, welterweight, heavyweight? Let’s get a female version of one of my favourite unsexy and super-tough fighters, Roy “Big Country” Nelson. Let’s get women who are just there because they can fight. Fine, market them with the usual moderately manufactured controversies, but get them fighting. I definitely see a lack of women at the higher weight classes, and I don’t think this needs to be the case. So… lack of encouragement? Not wanting to compete in a sport where weight class is one of the defining features of a career? What’s the problem? I don’t believe for a minute that it’s aptitude.
Get it started, world. If you really believe that “strong is the new skinny,” then let’s give some strong women (who might not be all that skinny) their day in the ring. And female Roy Nelson – if you’re out there – I want to see you fight.