Normally, when I write an article I have answers. I’m like Radio Shack. Ya know, “You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers.” To be clear, I happen to think that my answers are the right ones, but I digress. Today things are a little different. I think I have more questions than answers. And what, you ask, has brought me to this rare place of non-answers? Well, the answer lies in two people…Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate. The hype that surrounded Saturday’s fight between the two was unprecedented for women’s sports. A combination of each fighter’s talent, good looks and the legitimate disliking that each fighter had/has for one another created the perfect opportunity for marketers to make a killing from promoting and showcasing the fight. And promote they did. The fight was promoted all over the internet, social media and cable TV. Chicks actually shared the main event card on Pay-Per-View with two well-known male UFC fighters. Pretty dope, right? It was great to see so many people aware of and excited about a women’s UFC fight.
The fight was between Rousey (8-0 MMA, 2-0 UFC) and Tate (13-5 MMA, 0-2 UFC), two of the most well known women in the octagon (that’s the cage they fight in). While Tate has more experience, the undefeated Rousey is undeniably the better fighter. The fight, however, was hyped as an intense rivalry. When I think of a rivalry, I think of two equally or almost equally matched opponents whose competition brings an unpredictable outcome. The outcome of this fight, however, was very predictable…quiet uncharacteristic of a rivalry. Since the level of competition does not seem to rise to the level of a legitimate rivalry, why was there so much hype about this fight? And what does the hype say about the female UFC world and maybe women’s sports in general? For these questions I have no real answers. I have some thoughts, some suggestions, more questions, but no real answers.
Was it promoted so heavily because both women are attractive? It’s no secret that it’s a bit easier for female athletes who are attractive to get more attention than those who the media doesn’t consider attractive. Good looks sell. It’s also no secret that looks/attractiveness have made some female athletes millions of dollars despite their inability to become professional champions. So could the promotion around the fight be more about selling attractive women than a legitimate rivalry? And if so, is that really a bad thing? As long as people are watching, that’s all that matters, right? On the one hand, female athletes should not be objectified as mere eye-candy. Rather they should be appreciated for their talents and achievements. On the other hand, however, in order for women to be financially successful in sports, they need to garner attention. Attention sells tickets and products. So if selling looks is a way to get that attention and in turn the fat paycheck, it’s all good, right? Don’t look at me for the right answer.
Was it promoted so heavily because men want to see a good “cat fight”? We’ve all seen the occasional skit in a comedy where guys fantasize about two women getting into a fight, the scene usually involves mud and hair pulling. Those skits are supposed to be based off of the truth that men get turned on by women at war with one another. (I don’t know how true that is, but I guess its validity isn’t important for the purposes of this discussion.) By and large the UFC’s fan base is majority male. So was the fight promoted because it made some male sexual fantasy a reality? Or was it really promoted to show a genuine appreciation of women’s sports? As with the attractiveness question, does the reasoning behind the promotion even matter?
Could the fight have been promoted so heavily with just Rousey and Tate as the main event? As I mentioned above, the Rousey-Tate bout was promoted like no other women’s sporting event. It shared the Pay-Per-View main event card with two popular male fighters, Chris Weidman and Anderson Silva. But would the event have been on Pay-Per-View and promoted so heavily if it was just about the gals? The salaries (dictated largely by the fighters’ histories and name recognition) suggest that that’s highly unlikely. Weidman got paid $600,000 (which included a $200,000 bonus for winning), Silva got $600,000 (and would have gotten a $200,000 bonus had he won), Rousey got $100,000 (which included her $50,000 bonus for winning) and Tate got $28,000. But do those salaries and the co-main event status mean that no one is genuinely interested in female UFC fighters; or that there is an interest and the sport just needs more time to grow?
See, I told you I had a lot of questions and no answers. I’m a thinker by nature, so I’m actually fine with pondering these questions and not reaching a conclusion because I think eventually, time will answer those questions. As the sport grows or whimpers, we’ll learn if there is a genuine interest in female UFC fighters or if looks and sex really control the day. While we sit back and watch, I think one thing is clear. The fact that I was even compelled to ask these questions means that the sport and probably women’s sports in general have a long way to go. When men compete, there aren’t these questions of legitimacy. People just assume that the promotion of the competition is based on talent, the fight, athleticism. There aren’t questions about attractiveness, sex or marketability. One day though we’ll be able to watch women’s sports and not worry about those things. We’ll be glued to our TVs and not worry about who had to sexualize themselves for a check or if people are really interested in the sport. It will be a given that there are genuine fans who respect the games and the women who play them, just like with the men.