By Felix Rodriguez, Staff Writer
TXMMA wanted to explore the differences between what it’s like being a male and female mixed martial artist. We interviewed several female mixed martial artists in diverse stages of their careers to learn about their own experiences in Women’s Mixed Martial Arts. We found out that although fighting is fighting, when it comes to gender and the treatment of females in MMA, a fighter is not always just a fighter.
The first part of our series dealt with how journalists portray WMMA and how this affects the way fans and other media outlets perceive female fighters and WMMA in general, while the second part focused on the prevalence of sexual harassment in WMMA. In the third and final part of the series we will briefly cover other challenges women face in MMA, and feature Eric Holden’s response to the criticisms made about him throughout our first two pieces.
Here are some additional troubles women have faced in their paths as mixed-martial-artists.
Female Fighters Reflect on MMA’s Effect on Romantic Relationships
We discovered that, at least for the group of women we interviewed, it is very hard to maintain a romantic relationship outside of fighting circles.
“I think girl fighters only date other fighters, but definitely not vice versa,” said Paulina Granados. Every fighter we spoke with seemed to agree. All the women interviewed were currently involved with someone that either fought or trained in some element of MMA. Although romantic relationships between female fighters and people not involved in martial arts are possible, the women we spoke with all agreed that their previous partners, who didn’t fight or train, have acted jealously or felt threatened by the alpha male environment of fight gyms.
Lauren Taylor (pro 6-0) is an undefeated fighter who will face Sarah D’Alelio at Invicta FC 6 on July 13th. When discussing the problems of dating outside of fighting she explained, “my boyfriend loves it that I train, he’s a fighter too. I love training with him! My ex-husband was not a fighter and thought MMA was stupid. When I started MMA, he didn’t come to the gym or any of my fights. When we divorced, I promised myself I would never date a man if I could kick his ass again.”
River Warth is an amateur fighter who will compete in an upcoming Belts of Honorious card on June 29th. She added, “The person in my life now understands because he also is involved in MMA. My ex was not involved with our sport when I started my journey. He was not comfortable with the amount of time I trained, or the amount of time I spent with other men training (coaches or teammates). I could not do it without the support that I have now.”
Amber Stautzenburger (pro 3-1) rationalized that when female fighters have jealous partners these are issues being projected from within themselves that are based on their own insecurities and this type of distraction is mostly avoided when both people share in the same type of fighting lifestyle.
Other Challenges Women Athletes Face in Mixed Martial Arts
This three-part feature can only scratch the surface of what is wrong with WMMA. One of our community members who read part 1 made some very poignant remarks to us in the comments section of the first article. She noted, “There are many more obstacles as a woman than just our sexuality. Walk in to a new gym as a man and then as a women. Try cornering guys as a woman. It sucks having stupid comments while I am warming a fighter up. I don’t want my fighter to think about the [BS] being said to us, just his fight. I got used to changing in front of guys, but being the only girl in a locker room makes the dudes uncomfortable. Menstruation causes more issues than making weight, I won’t go into details on this here. Then there is the stereotypes that go with being a fighter. When a guy has a black eye, no big deal. When a women has one, you must be abused. The differences are immense and on many different levels.”
We hope to have, at least, raised awareness about the problems we have been able to highlight. The person who made these comments turned out to be Barb Honchak (pro 8-2), a professional female mixed-martial artist signed to Invicta FC. In a later conversation, Honchak stressed the importance of looking into how women are treated at a new gym versus men. How the public views a woman’s face after a fight versus a man’s. …how the general public perceives women working (not just fighting) in the industry. She also noted that although she receives a ton of positive feedback, she becomes fully aware of [her] gender the most when [she] works within the industry, not as a fighter, but as a corner to men.
Eric Holden’s Response to Female Fighter Allegations
Examiner blogger Eric Holden asked us to share the photo he sent of himself urinating to Amber Stautzenburger and had the following to say on the matter, “I sent all my friends an album of when I was in a band in 2005. In one photo, I got out of the tour van when we crossed into Texas. We all took photos in front of the Texas state sign. Just to make my bandmates laugh, I pretended to pee on the Texas state sign, but all I was doing was spilling out a cup of water. I turned my back to the camera and spilled out the bottle of water, and my friend snapped the photo. The photo has been on my Facebook and Myspace page since 2005. The photo is nothing bad at all, and anyone who saw it can vouch for that. (I would like for you to screenshot the photo to show it to everyone so they can see it’s nothing bad).”
When discussing the manner in which female fighters perceive his writing style and him as a person he noted:
“Muay thai champ Tiffany Van Soest once said ‘I tell them they can come for my looks, but once they see me compete they become a fan for the way that I fight. Come for my looks, but stay for my skill!’ That’s one of my favorite quotes regarding my articles because it’s so true on so many levels. Many fans of WMMA only initially gave it a chance because Showtime marketed the Miesha Tate vs. Ronda Rousey fight basically as two hot babes in leather in most of their promo ads to hype the fight. Once people were initially drawn in by their good looks, they tuned in and were like ‘oh wow, these girls have serious skill.’ From there, I’m guessing many of those fans discovered fighters like Liz Carmouche and Sarah Kaufman because Rousey fought them after she fought Miesha. So essentially, that would mean Rousey’s tight-fitting black leather sexy promo ads resulted in people discovering other female fighters who are known more for their skill and striking.
I’ll be honest. I only gave WMMA a chance because I see a photo of Felice Herrig in a bikini, so I checked out one of her fights. I was shocked that the fighters had incredible skill and talent inside the cage, but I was initially drawn in by the good looks. Without Herrig, I wouldn’t have ever discovered talented female fighters such as Ediane Gomes and Lauren Taylor.
Also, I feel that it’s not a one size fits all model when it comes to embracing the sexy angle. Some fighters absolutely love being marketed that way, while others do not like being viewed in that light. I respect Felice Herrig and Carla Esparza for not being afraid to show off their fun, girly softer side, but I also don’t mind Lauren Taylor and Jessica Penne being opposed to being viewed in that light. However, I think it’s wrong for WMMA fighters who don’t play up the sexy angle to look down on the fighters who do opt to do sexy photo shoots to enhance their careers.
I have yet to see any proof that marketing sex appeal hurts the sport in any way. When I started covering WMMA three years ago, there weren’t any females in the UFC and there was no Invicta FC and there were far less opportunities for female fighters. I’m not taking credit for growing the sport, but I definitely don’t think marketing sexiness hurt WMMA at all.”
A Rebuttal by Tiffany Van Soest
We reached out to the Muay Thai champion (Tifany Van Soest) who Holden quoted and asked her if she agreed with his interpretation of her quote. This is what she had to say:
“Eric originally misquoted me when defending himself, making it seem like I purposely played the ‘sexy girl fighter’ card to attract attention to myself which is not the case. Beauty is aesthetically pleasing and attention grabbing on its own. If someone/something is pretty, it will get attention. I fully understand that and accept that most people will watch me fight because they think I’m pretty, but they will respect and appreciate me even more once they see my skill so I’m not bothered by that. I have noticed the trend in his articles that follows the ‘sexy’ side of WMMA, but I don’t really pay much attention to it or have much to say on the matter other than if he maybe wrote a little more about actual fights and fight related topics, it might balance out and he wouldn’t be taking so much crap for the overly sexual coverage. I’ve been in one of those articles over a picture of I took with Carla Esparza. Yeah, we were dressed cute and showing our backsides and ‘flirting with the camera’ so of course it’s going to get attention, but hey girls just want to have a little fun sometimes but at the end of the day we’re professional fighters and the majority of what’s written about us shouldn’t be about our looks or sex appeal when our job is to beat up the person standing across the ring/cage from us. Save all that sex appeal talk for the Victoria secret models or NBA cheerleaders or something.”
Whether Holden is right or wrong is up to each person to decide, however, it does seem that his view of how to promote WMMA hasn’t considered the longevity of the sport. We are dealing with the consequences of short term thinking in MMA media coverage now. 20 years after MMA’s inception, there are still people who quote John McCain and call MMA human cockfighting because we chose to glorify the violent aspects of mixed martial arts in order to get it to sell in the beginning. If we choose to focus on the sexuality of female fighters to get people’s attention in the short term, then 20 years from now, uneducated fans may still be focusing on how big the fighter’s breasts are instead of how well she can beat her opponent.
Women’s Mixed Martial Arts deserves better treatment than that.