Friday, January 28, 2011

Women step inside the cage

(George Galanis is a freelance writer, MMA fan and BPL contributor.)

Increasingly during the modern era, women are stepping onto stages once dominated by men. The world of sports is no exception. A few extraordinary women have made recent footprints throughout the sporting world. Those footprints have not only brought these female athletes to the forefront, but they have also paved the way for the female athletes of tomorrow. Mixed martial arts is just the latest sport to experience the revolution of the female athlete.

Athletes of the female variety in all sports have had a harder time compared to their male counterparts when it comes to gaining respect and recognition for their work — women continue to be objectified and treated as lesser than their male counterparts in every sport. In the world of MMA, this fact hits even harder due to the already low salaries and lack of mainstream respect and understanding that all fighters face. That said; there have been positive changes in recent years. Both Bellator and Strikeforce have women’s tournaments, and Strikeforce is home to stars like Gina Carano, Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos, Marloes Coenen and Miesha Tate, but this is still not enough.

As week after week of mixed martial arts action ends, we look back and what do we remember? Was it the exciting action put forward by the girls on the fight card? Maybe it was the brutal athleticism of Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos?

For many out there the answer to this will be "No." Following the conclusion of any promotion headlined by talented female MMA fighters, you would be expecting to hear about the heart displayed by Miesha Tate, the slick submission attempts by Sarah Kaufman or the brutal war between Carano and Santos. Instead, there is a series of discussions and comments relating to the attractive features of the likes of Meisha Tate and Carina Damm.

What ever happened to respecting female athletes for their given abilities to compete? What detractors of combat sports fail to realise is the true skill and beauty that comes in form and competition, from both men and women who enter an octagon.

Any woman who wants to pursue MMA as a profession has to deal with unique challenges — in addition to those experienced by male fighters. First, there is the issue of marriage and family; many female fighters simply fight until they feel pressure to marry and retire; regardless of how good they are and often before they reach their full potential. Weight is also a big issue; many women are not making weight or the agreed weight. Another issue concerns the marketing of women’s MMA, which most of the time involves using the cute charm or attractiveness of the athletes to sell tickets.

In order to become stars, female fighters need a hook. Gina Carano's was her looks and, to a lesser extent, her charm. Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos' hook is her impressive physique and her ability to punch a hole in someone's face. These women do not just fight for the respect of the fight community, they fight for a living — this is how they support their families and put food on their tables.

Let's look back to the UFC pay-per-view, headlined by Anderson Silva defending his UFC middleweight title. Silva left with $200,000, while Matt Hughes left with $300,000 following his submission of the night bonus. The lowest paid athletes on that show were Todd Brown, Christian Morecraft and Rodney Wallace who each left with a comfortable $6,000 for their losing efforts.

Now look at Strikeforce’s Challengers 10 event. The winner of the women's welterweight tournament Miesha Tate had to compete twice on that event to get the biggest payday of her career—$18,000.

Mixed martial arts veteran Joe Riggs earned just $3,000 less than the top-ten ranked 62 kilogram Tate, for his lacklustre unanimous decision victory. The highest paid female combatant was Gina Carano for her first round TKO loss to Santos who picked up $125,000 for her headlining appearance in 2009.

So, what’s keeping woman's salaries so low in the MMA world? There are a number of answers to this question but it comes down to two main points.

Firstly, the UFC does not host women's mixed martial arts bouts. It’s no secret that the UFC are the biggest MMA organisation on the plane. So much so, that new comers to the sport tend to believe that it’s called UFC.

Since they are the biggest organisation out there, accordingly they are the organisation that will pay out the highest salaries. I am not arguing that adding a women's division to the UFC line-up that we would see girls leaving with $400,000 salaries; however, it is more likely that they will be making bigger earnings working for the UFC.
Secondly, take it or leave it — it’s a familiar story amongst female MMA fighters. Female MMA combatants face a situation where they can take a salary of as little as $1,500 for their months of hard work and training as well as their performance on the night, or they cannot fight at all.

It might seem harsh, but promoters want to make as much money as they can so they have the opportunity to return to that venue, thus they will take advantage of the knowledge that women don't have many opportunities to compete and will do so for little money.

With EliteXC now out of the picture, the highest paying promoter out there for women’s MMA is Scott Coker and Strikeforce — the only issue with Strikeforce is they do not run events featuring women on a regular basis.

These girls train just as hard as the men do; usually right alongside them, and when it comes time for them to perform they make a habit of stealing the show. Why should these athletes compete for so little income and respect from the people who are supposed to support them? Female fights are generally more exciting than men’s fights. Some of the men fight not to lose. The women just don’t care as much about winning and losing, they just want to go all out and fight.

"Mixed martial arts is the fastest growing sport in the world", are the words that have come out of the mouth
of Dana White and MMA fans all over the world. As the sport evolves everyone needs to accept that these are women, but also trained professionals, who compete at the highest-level possible.

The true fans in the MMA community will continue to embrace the work these women do inside the cage. Fans will continue to spread the gospel that yes, these women really can put on as good of a show as the men, and no, there is nothing wrong with admiring their ability and allowing beauty to be placed on hold for three-to-five rounds of combat.

I hope that such evangelism will take, and fans that have ventured into women’s MMA and mixed martial arts as a whole, will stay for the value these fighters bring to the sport. In other words; hopefully evolved civilized human beings will open up to new possibilities and ignore the pseudo-intellectual, pseudo-politically correct ranting of minds stuck in the Dark Ages of human development.



  1. Great article! People love a fierce underdog, Im stymied as to why the UFC doesn't exploit that fact by supporting the female fighters. Its bad business and archaic thinking. They'll have to change their tactics or lose to someone smarter eventually; just like in the cage.

  2. Good article, but over rated. They are still trying to sexually exploit female fighters using meisha tate, carano, waters etc as sex objects...its pathetic. they promote all the hot fighters, but none of the good ones. there are a lot of fighters that would bury carano in the dirt, but because the fighters have no say in who they fight, and it is all about money, not the fighters and fans, womens mma isn't getting the attention it deserves, and isn't being recognized as it should. The UFC is brilliant for not letting women fight, it is very wise, considering women's mma is a joke at the moment due to all the publicity stunts and shitty marketing. UFC will will open it up when the time is right, or will start a sub-circuit focused on women, once women's mma gets real instead of getting sexy.