It is the nature of privilege for those who hold it to be blinded to its existence. I have competed in sports all my life and never really appreciated the additional challenges that female athletes, especially female fighters can face. Last saturday I watched two female martial artists light up the world of combat sports in the UFC’s first ever female fight and whilst I wasn’t shocked by Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche’s stunning performances, I was shocked by the sinister and repulsive abuse that that these women had to endure from supposed fans just to display their talents on a stage equal to the men.
Bygone sporting memories have the ability to invoke emotion like few other things. Whether its England winning the 1966 world cup or The 1980 U.S ice-hockey team beating the Russians in the Olympics, sporting landmarks can turn monosyllabic, misanthropic old crusties into dewey eyed romantics. I believe that in my twilight years, I’ll be boring my grandchildren senseless with embellished tales of Rousey V Carmouche, who have blazed a historic trail that could reverberate way past the sports world. For those who disagree or who simply have no idea what I am talking about allow me to explain:
First, I am a huge combat sports fan. My love affair began with me boxing at an amateur level and gaining an infinite amount of respect for the sport. After growing tired of the endless corruption endemic to professional boxing, I turned my affections to the better organized Ultimate Fighting Championship, the worlds leading MMA company. Now, my passion for watching people get in a cage and beat each other bloody is not shared by too many of my peace-loving, tree-hugging friends so I rely on internet forums for most of my combat sport information. I also spend an inordinate amount of time defending this community, protesting against accusations from aforementioned hippie friends of us being blood thirsty savages no better than the crowd at the Roman Coliseum. I would retort that fighters and fight fans are in fact the last people likely to be violent or aggressive due to the respect they have for these noble arts and humility that comes a result of the discipline of their training. When it was announced that women were now to also compete in the UFC, I expected most fight fans, mature and respectful as we are, to be excited at the prospect of these talented newcomers. Yet upon hearing this news those same forums that are usually filled with informative and measured analysis were suddenly overrun with streams of vile misogyny. Intelligent contributions came from guys such as Polish Headlock: “Do you watch the WNBA too? Women’s sports just aren’t as good as men’s sports. It’s science.” Crochuck added “I think most guys just watch in case a boob pops out.” Red scorpion took time out of crystal meth and pornography marathon to say “no interest at all…women don’t belong in the cage but in the kitchen.” Thanks Red Scorpion!
What caused this eruption of sexist abuse? It wasn’t just the anonymity of the internet as these same forums are usually surprisingly free of the racial and ethnic slurs that litter 90% of youtube videos, no matter the topic. Something about these women had so unnerved these guys that they rushed to their computers in mummy’s basement, desperate undermine the achievements of these ladies if only to the echo chambers of the net. Looking at the fighters it easier to see why ‘Red scorpion’ would be intimidated. Liz Carmouche is a former U.S Marine who had done two tours of Iraq before coming an elite martial artist. And she was the underdog! Champion Ronda Rousey is an arm-breaking, Olympic medal taking, certified Californian badass who has won all of her professional fights in the first round. If you haven’t heard about Rousey yet, enjoy it, because you wont be able to escape her soon. For me, she has something of the young Cassius Clay about her. I can hear the cries of ‘blasphemy!’ But before Clay became the transcendental Muhammed Ali, he was just a young, brash fighting sensation who horrified and captivated mainstream society because he defied their expectations of him as a black man. No more smiling for the camera and being deferential to authority, one of Ali’s defining legacies is that he taught black men that they no longer had to be meek and mild in order to exist in the white man’s world. Change black to woman and what about that may not one day apply to ‘Rowdy’ Ronda?
It is this legacy that really threatens the guys who spent time and energy protesting against letting these women fight on such a big stage. If they didn’t like combat sports full stop that would be one thing but they are fans of the sport, just not for women. They claimed it wasn’t fair that the girls were being headlined above more experienced male fighters. In the end the co-main event between two male legends was 15 minutes of pure boredom and it was the back-and-forth battle between Rousey and Carmouche that saved the show. I feel for the ‘Red Scorpions’ of this world, I really do. From female Olympic boxing for the first time last summer to the recent removal of the ban on women in the frontline of the U.S military, the strict divisions in gender roles are evaporating before their eyes. Rousey is the poster girl for these new Amazons and they must fear the way she has managed to retain her femininity while showing the mental strength and brutal athleticism of a true fighter. Poor guys. If they need something to calm them down they should think about this: a hundred thousand little girls across the world probably also watched Rousey take out Carmouche last saturday night!