Are Sexist, Sensationalistic Headlines Going to Be the Norm for Women's MMA?
For most writers, the main takeaway from UFC 157 was Ronda Rousey's superlative grit and athleticism—the keyword being most.
There was one individual, a writer for The Examiner by the name of Eric Holden, who was enamored by something different: The champion's post-fight celebratory meal. Or, as he said it, the putting of "hot meat in her mouth."
The original article was deleted after concerted protests on twitter by various members of the MMA community, so it can't be linked to. Fortunately, MiddleEasy.com was forward-thinking enough to take a screenshot of it.
The full headline read: "Ronda Rousey put hot meat in her mouth to celebrate UFC 157 victory." The body of the piece revealed that Rousey ate some buffalo wings after defeating her opponent, Liz Carmouche.
So, do you get it? Buffalo wings? Hot meat? As far as execrable double entendres go, it doesn't get much worse than that. The writer eventually apologized and admitted that he got paid by the click, which explains the inflammatory headline. These facts make it easy to just dismiss this as a standard case of Internet click-bait run amok.
However, such a title is part of a deeper problem that women's MMA might not ever shake: The problem of sexism and discrimination based on looks.
Ronda Rousey almost got her head ripped off by a rear-naked-choke-turned-neck-crank but then, minutes later, she was victoriously parading through the cage after dispatching Carmouche with an armbar. Rousey was resolute and fervent in her efforts, as was Carmouche. Both athletes showed the determination and will-to-win that female fighters have a reputation for.
But women being great fighters doesn't sell. It doesn't drive clicks, sex does.
Rousey—a champion, an Olympian and one of the world's greatest and most dangerous female athletes—had to be sexualized and reduced to a punny headline.
While Mr. Holden apologized for his actions (although his history of employing such racy headlines makes the apology a bit dubious), what's to say that when Rousey or another female fights again that some other writer won't seek the easy-money headlines like Holden's and continue to mitigate what women do in the cage?
But this is only part of the WMMA problem.
The other aspect is the way that female fighters are marketed. Since Zuffa (the company that owns the UFC) purchased Strikeforce and got into the WMMA business, they've proven to be clumsy and unimaginative with promoting female fights.
Remember the commercial for Ronda Rousey vs. Miesha Tate? It was basically, "Hot chick vs. Hot chick. Watch the fight."
Remember the commercial for Ronda Rousey vs. Sarah Kaufman? "Leather-bound hot chick vs. Leather-bound hot chick. Watch the fight." But this time the advertisement was laughable.
They threw Sarah Kaufman in a tight, white leather outfit that was...unflattering. Kaufman is a talented individual but isn't suited to play the role of the lethal, sexy bombshell.
In fact, most women in general can't fit into that mold—the role of the "bad ass" hot chick who's legitimately talented, the fight promoters' holy grail. The mold that Ronda Rousey fits into, and the one that women's MMA pioneer Gina Carano fit into.
Zuffa did a better job promoting Rousey vs. Carmouche. They commissioned a post on the famed viral media site BuzzFeed with facts about both Rousey, Carmouche and several other fighters. They also commissioned one featuring the ins and outs of MMA lingo, also featuring Rousey and Carmouche.
Carmouche's unique background also enabled Zuffa to ditch selling the fight as just a catfight with armbars and omoplatas. Carmouche served in the Marine Corps, and she is the first openly homosexual fighter in the UFC.
Is Zuffa learning its lesson on how to promote women? Or were they just afforded a good opportunity in the form of an athlete with an endearing personal history in Liz Carmouche?
This question will be answered when Rousey doesn't fight someone with such an inspiring background or fights without the grudge match angle that her seemingly-inevitable rematch with Tate would have.
And until this question is answered in a satisfactory way (read: not sticking Rousey's opponents in leather), the question of whether the UFC's great WMMA experiment will be successful shall remain unanswered, for how can we really say that Zuffa/UFC and the fans hold female fighters in the same regards as male fighters when the women constantly have to be sold on their looks and their looks alone?
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