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Is 'sex appeal' still a necessary evil when it comes to WMMA marketing?

According to a Jan. 1 report from MMA Fighting, early signs indicate UFC 168 had interest at a level of the top shows in company history.

The UFC 168 weigh-ins drew 275,000 viewers, the largest since the promotion teamed with FOX.

UFC 168 prelims drew over 500k more viewers than the previous UFC card, and early indicators point to the main pay-per-view card being a massive business success.

With that said, it should come as no surprise that UFC 168 featured two of the most marketable stars in WMMA on the event's main card, as Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate went toe-to-toe in the UFC 168 co-main.

Is it pure coincidence that a UFC weigh-in featuring two of the most attractive females in the sport drew the largest number of viewers since the promotion signed up with FOX?

Probably not.

Rousey and Tate stripping down to their skivvies to weigh in for the event meant big business and huge ratings for the UFC, and the promotion knows it.

Some WMMA supporters could look to the success of UFC 168 and make the argument that "playing up the sex appeal" is no longer a necessary evil when it comes to the marketing of women's MMA, because the event did solid numbers without featuring Rousey and Tate in a sexualized manner.

However, even Tate herself admits her good looks played a part in marketing the show.

She says playing up sex appeal is perfectly fine for female athletes, as long as it's done tastefully.

“I think it’s important to have a balance,” Tate said. “I think everybody has different boundaries and limitations. When someone like Sarah Kaufman or Sara McMann say they don’t want to use looks to promote themselves, it might be a little different than when I say the same thing. It can mean different things.

“It’s not my goal to go out there and say, ‘Hey, I’m sexy, look at me, I can fight. I’ve always been feminine. I’ve always been proud of being a strong and empowered woman, and I don’t see anything wrong with embracing that. It just has to be tastefully done.”

Here's the thing: Women's MMA has come a long way from when it was viewed as a sideshow spectacle in the early-2000s, back when most fight fans saw it as "sexy women rolling around in bikinis" rather than a legitimate sport.

That image slowly changed because the level of skill and athleticism improved, so fight fans saw that the female fighters were actually talented athletes who bring it just as hard as their male counterparts.

When female fighters opt to play up sex appeal, it doesn't set the sport back.

What it does do is increase awareness of WMMA and help break down some of the less-than-attractive stereotypes of female fighters -- such as those that peg them as a bunch of butch, masculine brawlers.

Most female fighters are quite feminine, so there's no reason to hide the fact that they are beautiful just as much as they are talented at fighting. Every aspect of their marketability should be hyped, not just their athletic abilities.

Fighters have a limited window to earn money, so every fight that goes by without marketing to the fullest is just another lost opportunity.

Fighters who opt to play up sex appeal also help their own personal brands, as such fighters are often presented with more endorsement opportunities and their names become more recognizable to the casual fan.

And, really, that's a positive thing because even if it doesn’t help WMMA overall immediately, it’s still a step in the right direction for the sport. In other words, it’s attention.

As long as its done in a tasteful manner, there's really nothing wrong with it.

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