Why women’s MMA is here to stay

Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Weili Zhang
Image via @ufc on Instagram (photographer not listed)

Women’s MMA is needed now more than ever before. At UFC 248, fans witnessed an all-out war from strawweight royalty Weili Zhang and Joanna Joanna Jędrzejczyk. The pair collided in an action-packed brawl that seemingly overshadowed the main event between Israel Adesanya vs Yoel Romero.

Out of left field, MMA fighter Islam Makhachev disregarded the female athletes with a now-deleted tweet, “this is not a women’s sport” he stated. Even Dana White previously dismissed the idea of a women’s division in the UFC. The MMA anti-female rhetoric attracts criticism but nevertheless highlights an ongoing perception that females should not fight.

However, here are the fundamental reasons why the man’s world of MMA means nothing without women.

Whether it is Joan of Arc who lead France to victory in its long-running war with England or Soviet female snipers in the 1940’s, women are no strangers to strategic violence. Throughout history, mostly men are credited for towing the front line, however, women have remained the unsung heroes of our greatest combat battles. Often in times of conflict, they were assigned to the domestic arena. Women’s exclusions from armies and from institutions were commonplace, or at best, undocumented. Now in 2020, MMA allows an unprecedented insight into the life and mind of the female warrior.

Women can offer the same noble physical sacrifices as their male counterparts, and this is something to be celebrated. Nobody has proven their physical capabilities and aptitude for violence better than Amanda Nunes. The two-division champion has defeated every former women’s bantamweight champion, she has 10 first-round finishes and the longest win streak for a female fighter in UFC history. “The Lioness” remains unapologetically violent and a soldier at the top of the MMA ranks.

Amanda Nunes, UFC rankings
Image via @ufc on Instagram

Her success story has proved that women’s aspirations in the sport are to be taken seriously. Her former opponent, Ronda Rousey played a key role in popularising the sport. Her sheer brutality and charisma became the turnkey in the moving machinery of women’s MMA. It was also key in changing the cultural perception of female fighters. She retired from MMA in 2018 after suffering two consecutive losses. However, to deny her success is to deny the importance of women’s MMA.

Part of her success was due to the contrast of her judo skillset, fighting domination and outgoing demeanour. Prior to her UFC entrance, violence was largely understood as inherently masculine. Fighters including Rousey, Gina Carano, and Holly Holm, expose the complex nuances of being a modern-day fighter. In each of their own way, they show it is possible to be beautiful yet strong, delicate yet aggressive, emotional yet tough. This dichotomy of the modern female is constantly pedalled forward by feminists or liberal movements to protest gender biases. Women’s MMA does this instinctively because it allows women to challenge what it means to be “masculine” or “feminine” without thrusting an ideological statement on viewers. It also allows women to challenge the cultural assumptions of what it is to be a “woman” and become a trailblazer in an emerging sport.

Unlike Islam Machachev who believes women should not participate, MMA is a platform that doesn’t undermine women’s capabilities, but rather, it enhances them. Women have the capacity to bring life into this world which puts into context the Octagon battles and gives them a new meaning. Going through the extreme physical and emotional journey of becoming a parent can give female fighter’s unique insight. Michelle Waterson is a prime example who said to the UFC, “I have now embraced that Mom Champ mentality, but it has taken some time for me to be able to do that.”

For women from all walks of life, MMA is great self-discipline. It provides females with the tools to defend themselves, and have conviction in their actions. If women want to utilize their skills of self-defence to make a living, it is something to be celebrated as opposed to shut-down.

With an increase in women joining fighting organizations, it validates MMA as a discipline and power that they can harness through all aspects of life. By denying women the right to fight, it undermines MMA as a sport. MMA has taken leaps and bounds to change it’s dated perception of a bloody brawl. The sport should continue to do so by welcoming elite athletes in equal measure, regardless of gender. Women’s MMA is a worthy addition to the ever-evolving sport, and it is here to stay.