According to an Oct. 17 post from The Guardian, there are few role models for girls that have as much substance as style.
Enter WMMA, a sport that features plenty of female athletes who are just as talented as they are attractive. But does playing up sex appeal hurt their sport, or is it helping to reel in casual fans who might not have ever given the sport a chance in the first place?
On Episode One of ProWMMA Now!, Sam Wilson, a respected voice in the WMMA community, opened up about the growth of the sport and why it's wrong for promotions to play up sex appeal when it comes to female fighters.
"Back then it was like a side show, let's bring the pretty women out there and have them fight and have all the men go frickin' crazy like 'ohhh yeahh yeahh,' so it was more of a side show back then," Wilson said of the early days of WMMA. "To see it form backstage as opposed to what the fans see and see what the women had to go through to get to where they are, it's like 'wow you know?' It's about time they do get center stage through the cards, Invicta being like one of the elite places because they are there as athletes and fighters as opposed to women and sex symbols and side shows.
"So I'm glad it is where it is and I'm glad some of the promotions are actually seeing the females as athletes and not the side show and not the sexy females out there fighting, ring girl status or whatever you want to call it. So yeah I do enjoy seeing that part of it. Promotions still have to grow and accept that these are women athletes first, think your mom, your daughter, your aunt, your sister or whatever. To think they are up there as sex symbols and have the guys go 'oh yeah' and what's going through their minds as opposed to seeing them as athletes, so there's still a little bit of growth needs for that as opposed to being the sexier side of female MMA and seeing them as athletes, female athletes."
Wilson makes some great points, but her viewpoint isn't widely embraced in the WMMA community. Some agree with it, while other female fighters point out that playing up sex appeal helps them make sponsor money so that they can focus on MMA training.
"I have sponsors that pay me monthly just to train," said Invicta FC fighter Felice Herrig. "So people can knock it, they can say 'Oh you shouldn't use your sex appeal.' Why not? If it brings me the opportunity to get paid to do what I love to do, so I don't have to work a 9-5 job so I can focus on my training … I've worked every angle of just trying to get my name out there, you know, and here I am."
Additionally, many casual fans are initially drawn in by the good looks, only to eventually get hooked on the skill and talent. It's up to the fighters, as well as the media, to create that initial interest to get fans to tune in. Once they do tune in, they'll become fans of the talent and not just the good looks.
"Being a woman and it’s kind of sad to say, but you have to do more just to get that attention," Muay Thai champ Tiffany Van Soest said. "My whole thing is people say that I’m so pretty and they ask if I get mad about that. 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!”
At this point, it's clear that female MMA fighters can play up their sex appeal without costing themselves respect as a talented athlete.
UFC champ Ronda Rousey posed artistically nude for ESPN the Magazine, as did UFC bantamweight contender Miesha Tate, but all that did was elevate brand awareness for WMMA. Both fighters are "sexy" and have no problem using their looks to enhance their own brands, but they are also both respected, talented athletes.
Female fighters can be "sexy" and use sex appeal to enhance their careers without costing themselves the opportunity to be considered a respected athlete by fight fans.