Cage fighting: Are you tough enough?
“Can women cut it in the macho world of cage fighting? And how do you train for such a challenging sport?”
I find the concept of physically strong women extremely appealing and am instantly drawn to topics like this, but have read too many articles in which female journalists try out a typically male-oriented sport, huff and puff a bit then retire, thankfully, to their sofa with a bar of chocolate and a glass of red wine. Not exactly what I’m looking for.
As a result, I was pleasantly surprised by the author of this article, who is training for new and challenging sports like cage fighting (more accurately called Mixed Martial Arts) in preparation for her participation in Tough Guy, “a gruelling obstacle course boasting barbed wire, fire and electric fences.” Unsurprisingly, she throws herself into the ring, giving as many bruises as she receives and directly asking questions about the lack of female MMA fighters and sexism outside the ring:
At the sell-out live event I attended in east London, I was uncomfortable with the scantily clad ‘ring girls’ who led the fighters out. Proponents claim the women attract new fans to the sport, and while they’re no doubt a draw for some, these seedy sorts of trappings may well deter female participants.
She then spends the rest of the article discussing the virtues of MMA for the skill, discipline and mental focus it requires and for the social function it can serve as a channel for aggression. It is frustrating that even with all these benefits, there is still seen to be a need to employ those ring girls to attract new fans. It’s the same way I feel about otherwise funny comedians relying on cheap sexist jokes; why undermine the genuine article with material that sells you short? What kind of audience are you trying to appeal to?
I would love to hear about more women cage fighters, and so, it seems, would the MMA higher-ups, who point out the difficulties of matching women into weight classes for competition, a key safety precaution, as the numbers are still so low. Dixon paints an encouraging picture:
More women are training, and there are a handful of UK professionals, including Rosi Sexton, the world bantamweight No 1. Abroad, female fighters have a higher profile, especially in the US, Japan and Brazil. Pay is lower than for top male fighters, but is rising with their status: last August, a women’s fight headlined an MMA event for the first time.
Greater acknowledgement of physically strong women over physically strong men – how refreshing is that? That said, Dixon is also told that women tend to lack the “necessary aggression” to become MMA fighters. “If 100 women walk into my gym, only one of them will have what it takes. If you want me to, I can make you into a cage fighter.” In fairness, she is not told that men are more likely to have what it takes, and the tone of the quotes used is very positive towards the increased participation of women in MMA, but I do wonder if the focus on aggression and competition is actually necessary if the aim is to increase participation; after all, a lot of women who do kickboxing do so for fitness and self-defence, and I’m willing to bet at least some of the women who have entered kickboxing competitions had no intention of doing so when they started the sport.
There seems to be a bit of tunnel vision at work, that competitive fighting as an outlet for aggression is the only successful approach to MMA, without considering that women take up sports and martial arts for different reasons. I’m keen to take up something that makes me feel physically stronger and fitter with greater stamina and confidence, and am put off as soon as websites mention a focus on weight loss and toning or on competition. I don’t want to spar, I’m not the most gracious loser in the world and find rivalry thoroughly demotivating, but would potentially be interested in MMA if it was just about personal performance and a satisfying week’s workout. That said, the last sport I tried was women’s rugby, when I burst into tears and had to leave after the warm-up because I was so out of my depth. Perhaps I need to start with something smaller, like Tiddlywinks, and work my way up.
I think the most important contribution of something like MMA to people like me who do not want to be involved on their terms (according to them I am incapable of being involved on their terms, lacking necessary aggression as I do) is to provide role models, physically strong, smart women like Rachel Dixon who are unafraid to join and challenge physically strong men on their turf. I wish I had been aware of such women growing up, and that society had played a greater part in getting girls like me, unfit and awkward, into sports and martial arts rather than sidelining all but the most naturally graceful and athletic.