Last week, the UFC officially released a Code of Conduct for its fighters. So at least now we have a hard copy of what kind of actions fall into the category of no-no’s, and are grounds for investigation and disciplinary action. Therefore, incendiary statements like we saw last week from UFC fighters Ronda Rousey and Matt Mitrione speaking out against transgender fighter Fallon Fox’s right to compete in MMA are a thing of the past, right?

Short answer: no. Not at all.

I’m sure most would agree that the possibility of scandalous statements or actions from a fighter in the future are not going to be hampered by a few pages of paper. But at least there is a policy set in place now, and the UFC does deserve credit for drawing a line in the sand by loosely defining what falls under inappropriate conduct. That’s why Mitrione received punishment for his words, and why Rousey didn’t even get an attentive slap on the wrist. The difference? It’s not what you say, but how you say it.

Take a look at the first paragraph of the UFC’s Fighter Code of Conduct: “fighters shall conduct themselves in accordance with commonly accepted standards of decency, social conventions and morals, and fighters will not commit any act or become involved in any situation or occurrence or make any statement which will reflect negatively upon or bring disrepute, contempt, scandal, ridicule, or disdain to the fighters or the UFC.”

Even without reading the conduct policy, Mitrione’s case is a bit easier to declare as misconduct based on the inflammatory comments he issued in regard to Fox. He referred to Fox as a “lying, sick, sociopath, disgusting freak.” Hoping the next woman that she fights—or “he,” as Mitrione would not accept referring to Fox as a woman—would “beat his ass, and I hope he gets blackballed and never fights again, because that’s disgusting and I’m appalled by that.”

The UFC heavyweight’s comments got him into hot water and were reported beyond the MMA media bubble, which gave MMA a short-term black eye. His words hurt the image of a sport that, based on its inherently notorious nature, has already had to fight so hard just to gain a wider acceptance. Such reproach would only prove to the majority of Americans that aren’t on board with MMA, that, yeah, these MMA people are just a bunch of violent morons. So there you go, that’s a clear example of misconduct based on Mitrione’s charged words and his call for Fox to not deserve to earn a living in the sport based on his view of her.

His perceived anger towards Fox is something that he will need to sort out himself, and hopefully sits as an example of the type of issues that the UFC can address proactively with its conduct code. Indeed, the UFC was swift in reacting to Mitrione’s comments in order to save face due to the embarrassment that one of the promotion’s contracted fighters brought about by their conduct in an interview.

The UFC has already been there before with one of the sport’s biggest faces—not a fighter, but UFC President Dana White himself when he used the word “faggot” derogatorily in an interview. So you better believe that any discriminatory actions against the LGBT community will not be tolerated.

Yet, we could still say that the UFC’s conduct policy’s verbiage will appear a bit vague when more specific events arise. The policy does describe that investigations will be conducted into such matters, but that could still leave plenty of fighters on the fence about what makes an open and shut case of misconduct.

The recently released policy is more like an ambiguous guiding compass, not much different than the proposed course of actions that any law-abiding citizen follows.

The UFC states that it will hold the policy of conduct in accordance with “commonly accepted” standards. Now, what is common? Is that meant to be defined by the largest majority of our culture? What about the minority of Americans such as transgendered individuals like Fox? Simply being in a minority puts them in a disadvantage of being overruled by the tyranny of numbers.

If we look at the statistics for the number of transgender people in the United States, we’ll see that their numbers make up a rough estimate of about 5 percent of the population. That makes it safe to say that the vast majority of America doesn’t have a good idea of what it means to be transgender. Even if ignorance is to be their defense, comments like Mitrione’s went beyond mindful neglect and into borderline hate speech.

But what remains at the heart of this issue is ignorance. Ignorance towards transgender people is the root of the controversy surrounding Fox. It’s one thing to disagree with Fox’s right to compete (the advantages she may or may not gain through biology is a valid topic for debate), but that doesn’t give anyone the right to use hate speech.

Only days after Mitrione’s comments, the issue arose again when UFC women’s bantamweight champion Rousey decided to give her two cents in regards to Fox on the AXS TV program Inside MMA. She too stooped to the same level of ignorance by basing her statements in rhetoric and not fact. It certainly wasn’t helping matters for the UFC, but she definitely wasn’t going as far with her words as Mitrione did, even if she agreed with him. Therefore, no punishment was reasonably issued towards her.

Among other comments, she said, “If you’re a man who identifies as a woman, or a woman who identifies as a man, that’s something you can’t control. That’s not your choice. That’s just the way you are, but being transgender, that does require a choice.”

Her comments, while not intentionally hurtful, are rooted in a uneducated understanding of a transgender person (even if she said she conducted “extensive” research to reach an informed opinion). For many transgendered individuals, it is not a choice of becoming a man if born a woman or becoming a woman if born a man, but a deep notion, often from childhood, that they were born as the wrong sex. The same way we are born left-handed or right-handed, a transgender person feels like someone who was born right-handed but forced to use their left hand for everything they do based on factors they cannot control. Should they be forced into believing they are making a choice about who they are and what is best for themselves based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the masses? It’s a tricky thing to tell another person that you know they are making a choice for simply being the person that they are.

If simply choosing to play for the other gender’s team were the case, then the NCAA and the Olympics wouldn’t allow transgender people to compete in sporting events. But they do. Rousey’s argument about choice falls short of the fact that transgender people become eligible for athletic competition through surgery and hormone treatment.

In that context, the “choice” to change genders is what makes them even eligible to compete as a different sex than they started out with at birth.

“She can try hormones, chop her pecker off, but it’s still the same bone structure a man has, it’s an advantage. I don’t think it’s fair,” Rousey continued.

Well, if Rousey would have taken the time to call up GLAAD or any other group that could provide the appropriate information, then she would know that bone structure and hormones don’t play into an advantage for a transgender person at all. If anything, it puts them at a slight disadvantage.

A person’s bone structure cannot be changed. They will still be the same height as before starting hormone treatment, but that’s not the issue. Men and women’s skeletal structure are mainly different in two areas: the pelvis and the skull. Is that an “advantage” that Fox is using to win fights? Height and reach are no different for a transgender fighter as an advantage or disadvantage than what any fighter would face. Fighters come in all shapes and sizes, so being transgender doesn’t suddenly make that any different. Also, let’s not forget that there are weight classes in MMA. You know, the limits set in place to ensure a fair size between competitors.

A representative from GLAAD could have told Rousey the same thing that he told us. He explained that when a transgender person goes through hormone treatment, they alter the level of hormones in their body, which causes it to change. It is known that women have less dense bones than men and a harder time keeping muscle mass due to a lack of testosterone. When a person born as a male undergoes treatment to become biologically similar to a woman, they are suppressing their testosterone. Bone density and muscle mass then become something that decreases.

According to the representative from GLAAD, for someone like Fox, who now has significantly lowered testosterone, being able to keep muscle mass on her body is slightly harder than it would even be for women. That means she is having to work out a bit harder just to maintain, which is a far cry from the opinion that she is just a dude who put on a sports bra and is beating up women for the simple pleasure of misogyny.

That’s the difference between rhetoric and reality.

However, finding a definitively agreed-upon medical definition to prove either side of the argument about bone density and muscle mass is the hard part. The medical community is still coming together to give a universal assessment of transgender transformations, especially in the case of sport.

But the fact remains, antagonistic comments towards any group of people that crosses the line of “accepted standards” deserves due recourse, whether rooted in ignorance or simply coming from an opposing opinion. Mitrione crossed the line and Rousey didn’t, and both are UFC employees operating under the same code of conduct.

Even though both wore the hat of ignorance on the issue, so do a lot of us.

Before Fox came around, did any MMA fans care to know the specifics of a transgendered individual’s life? I know I didn’t. I wasn’t against the idea of transgender people competing in MMA, but I was indifferent. And now I feel like a more educated person for being confronted and learning about the issues that Fox has brought to the table.

The positive that we can all take away from this is that Fox’s story has sparked an interest in people like her and opened the eyes of a lot of people that had never bothered to think about it.

Some people were shocked by Fox, others appalled or even angered. But they all will walk away from Fox’s story knowing a bit more about a small segment of the population that they might have never even considered before.

Does any of this matter in regards to the UFC’s Code of Conduct? Not really. Fighters will always be there to say something stupid or test the lines of decency while simply trying to joke around or maybe just to get their face in the papers. Sometimes it blows up, and sometimes it blows over and most people will be none the wiser.

MMA is in large part a business of promotion. Saying things to get people fired up is part of the game, and that blurs the lines of conduct in the name of entertainment. However, it is a good thing that the UFC has finally released a policy, no matter how ambiguous it may be worded, towards conduct in regards to matters such as Mitrione’s comments. But that won’t change the fact that controversy will arise.

Not all of us will fall on the same side of an issue, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Once the ensuing storm clears, perhaps we’ll walk away a bit smarter and open-minded because of it.

Photo: Matt Mitrione (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

About The Author

David Massey
Staff Writer

David Massey studied Humanities and Art History at the University of Central Oklahoma. He first found interest in MMA from the first TUF show and has been hooked ever since. He began posting on mmajunkie then submitting Sunday Junkie entries and that began his interest in writing about MMA. Through twitter David found other MMA enthusiasts and began contributing articles to marqueemma.com. He looks forward to growing as a writer and being a part of the sport he loves.

  • Dawn Underwood

    Well said David Massey. in regards to such a sensitive subject. You went about it the right way with education and support of individuals who may seem different to others. Their type of thinking (Rousey and Mitrione) are what are the beginning of hate crimes. Lack of knowledge and big mouths!
    Thank you for a very well written and understanding article.