Combative sports have become a more acceptable pursuit for women in only the last few years, and seemingly always as an afterthought. The Olympics didn’t add women’s boxing until 2012, and it took four years after they added judo before women were also allowed to compete. Mixed martial arts (MMA) is no different. The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) began in 1993, but the first woman was not admitted until, again, 2012. Ronda Rousey helped pave the way for a more sweaty and exciting future.
“She’s a great role model for a lot of people… Since she joined the UFC, women in MMA has kind of exploded, and it’s just going to keep growing. It’s not a craze or some sort of trend. It’s here to stay,” says Alyssa Krahn, an amateur MMA fighter and an instructor at Hayabusa Training Centre. “Five or 10 years from now… people won’t even think twice about [women doing MMA]. It’ll just be mainstream.”
It’s been an uphill battle in the MMA community. Dana White, UFC president, once said he’d never allow women fighters. Although he later admitted Rousey, he has since praised her attractiveness and how she’s a “guy in a girl’s body,” so there’s clearly still progress to be made. Thankfully, in schools and training centres, athletes seem to put the love of the sport and the thrill of training above all else. Any disapproval seems to be projected from ignorance.
“Any criticism that people have or that I’ve received has been based on people who just kind of form their own opinions without learning about the sport or what it’s really about… It’s very much a technical sport that focuses on discipline, commitment and respect,” says Krahn.
As in other sports, MMA athletes train long and hard, but they have the added difficulty of mixing their disciplines. Fighters train in boxing, wrestling and jiu-jitsu, among others, and must combine them effectively in the ring. Regardless of gender, the training is similar, and each division must abide by rules, judges and an athletic commission. There should be no question that these women warrant the same respect as men.
“I’ve been very blessed to be raised by a man who taught me that women are strong, powerful and equal… I’ll always have disadvantages strength-wise and size-wise… But if I have better technique and speed, I can match [men] with different qualities of training and intelligent execution,” says Rebecca Woodford, a head instructor at Edmonton Mixed Martial Arts.
Equality is an important aspect of MMA. Different divisions and weight classes exist to keep all fights fair and safe. A debate thus exists over transgender fighters, particularly Fallon Fox, who came out publicly as a transgender woman in 2013. Unsurprisingly, Dana White opposes her inclusion in the UFC. Rousey stated she would not fight someone with an unfair advantage, although medical experts explained that Fox has the endurance and strength comparable to other women her age. The hope seems to lie in the newness of women’s MMA, leaving room for even more acceptance, growth and understanding.
“[The UFC’s] been implementing stricter policies on drug testing and weight cuts to keep things fair to its athletes… [But] our sport is still evolving, so in the future transgender fighters may be allowed in the UFC, ” says Krahn. Woodford says, “If it was proven that the transgender fighter wouldn’t have an advantage, I would hope they would be allowed to compete with other women.”