In 2011, Dana White, president of the Ultimate Fighter Championship (UFC), was asked if women will ever fight in the UFC.
“Never,” he stated to Hollywood.TV.
It was Ronda Rousey, UFC’s first woman champion, who changed his mind.
Rousey proved that women were capable of producing as much talent as men. White then began incorporating women in the UFC and repeatedly admitted his misjudgement.
Women are often critiqued for participating in mixed martial arts. The role of gender places women athletes in a double standard. And society encourages women to be active but limits what types of activity they can participate in.
However, women athletes in the UFC lead the gender equity movement through broadcasting and career development.
Through defeating all her challengers and becoming the goat, Rousey helped create new opportunities for women.
The challenge with women in MMA is that there are not enough of them. The disparity between talent makes it difficult for fights to be even. Women receive bad press because the uneven talent in weight classes leads the audiences toward the moral critique if women should be “violent.”
Fighting as a career is for women to decide and the UFC chose to help those interested be in the spotlight.
The UFC began regularly broadcasting women’s fights. From prelims, to co-main events, to main events, women are at the center of the international sport broadcasting scene.
Following Rousey’s debut, women from various countries began signing contracts with the UFC. Three divisions later, we see a diverse set of women champions. Zhang WeiLi. Amanda Nunes. Valentina Shevchenko.
Women in the UFC also receive opportunities to work in sport media. For example, Megan Olivi and Laura Sanko work as UFC sport reporters. Angela Hill, the first Black fighter, is also a commentator for UFC on ESPN.
These women are welcomed into these spaces to not only represent women but to also show their technical expertise in men’s MMA.
Gender equity is based on fairness between men and women. Unfortunately, these opportunities for equity are not easy to come by. It is challenging to ask men to change their minds about women in sport. We, as women, must take initiative to create our own spaces and define what equity looks like in sport.
What does the future look like for women in MMA? A decade of development will lead to:
- an increase in representation of women in sport
- intersectionality as a strength and not a threat
- young women and girls being inspired
- the growth of new weight divisions
- more exposure for women in sport media
As expected, there are still conflicts with women in media. Women are still being objectified, undermined, and shut out of the sport scene.
Sport remains a platform for sexism to prevail. It is not easy to navigate the transformation of women in sport, but we also must know where we are going.
Sport is also a platform for women to control their narratives. It is a space where women can physically thrive and be healthy. Organizations like She Scores, She’s4Sport, BurnItAllDown and The Gist are all advancing women in sport.