There’s no question an athlete’s physical appearance has an impact on marketability, especially when it comes to females given the influence men have on societal norms. Individuals like Anna Kournikova and Danica Patrick, talented to be sure, are pushed to the forefront based purely on physical attributes more than actual performance in their respective sports while their less attractive peers struggle to land half the sponsorships despite having twice the success.
The same is true when it comes to MMA with Gina Carano the most glaring example of how a solid, yet not spectacular, female fighter became one of the sport’s top draws and earned a number of mainstream endorsements as well as a role in a major Hollywood film despite the bulk of her wins coming against overmatched, undersized competition. In reality, Carano’s weigh-ins drew as much attention from a lot of fans as her actual bouts did given the chance to see her in a skimpy outfit or behind a towel in even less.
On Monday, undefeated Strikeforce featherweight Ronda Rousey spoke on the subject in an interview with The MMA Hour, and rather than criticize the public for putting a premium on looks rather than in-ring accomplishments she supported their stance, saying, “I’m not dumb, you’re not dumb. Really, if we push the ‘hot chicks’ to fight each other for a title, it’s going to get a lot of attention.”
“That’s why I’d rather fight Miesha (Tate) for a title instead of Sarah Kaufman,” she continued. “Because she’s good looking and she’s marketable. More marketable than the vast majority of the girls in women’s MMA. I think that’d be a huge fight and it would lead to an eventual fight between me and Cris Cyborg (Santos) being an even bigger deal. I’m just trying to figure out the right way to do things so us girl fighters have some job security a few years from now.”
While I appreciate Rousey’s honesty, I wholeheartedly disagree with her acceptance of fans’ ignorance and would have preferred to see her acknowledge the role skill plays, shying away from superficiality as a means of determining who a promotion should push. It concerns me to think that there are countless little girls out there who Rousey could serve as a role model to given her athletic accomplishments and self-confidence that might now think the abilities they possess are not as important as how they look on the outside. To Carano’s credit, as stunning as she may be, she never made it a point to flaunt her looks and often looked slightly embarrassed when the cameras were focused on her outside of the ring.
Mixed Martial Arts is a sport, not a beauty pageant. I want to see the two best fighters go at it, not the two athletes who I’d most like to go on a date with. Kaufman has 4X Rousey’s wins, as well as a past victory over Tate, while “Rowdy” Ronda has yet to fight at 135 pounds where a bout with Tate would take place. From that standpoint there’s no question the title-shot should be Kaufman’s, and still debates rage on (perhaps even internally at Strikeforce) about whether or not Rousey should have her wish fulfilled. It’s time to move away from antiquated, sexist notions of what it takes to be a successful fighter and into the modern era where fans/media/promoters pay more attention to a woman’s hands, feet, elbows, and knees than how she looks in spandex. To do any less cheapens MMA as a whole.
What do you think about the subject on today’s “Opening Round”? Tell us on our Twitter account (@mmatraining)!
PHOTO CREDIT – STRIKEFORCE