From early childhood, boys are taught that hitting a girl is wrong. It’s a rule that’s ingrained into society, unless you happen to live in a third-world nation where women aren’t treated with respect. Men who hit women are seen as awful people—and rightfully so—that pick on those who can’t defend themselves. Yet, things take on a skewed narrative when there’s a cage and four-ounce gloves involved.

In that setting, women demand that men don’t take it easy on them in training. They’re tough and they can handle it. But what happens when it’s no longer training? What happens when someone decides to take a man and a woman and toss them into a cage together with a referee to oversee the proceedings, judges cageside to keep score and fans in the audience to cheer each warrior on? What happens when it’s a man against a woman in a real fight?

Those were the questions on a lot of MMA fans’ minds after Shooto Brazil recently announced that its Dec. 20 fight card would include a bout between male bantamweight fighter Emerson Falcao, a Nova Uniao product who holds an 0-1 record as a pro, and Team Nogueira female 135-pounder Juliana Velasquez, who would be making her pro debut. The news was widely reported throughout the MMA world and has even been picked up by major news outlets and sites like TMZ.

Now, it seems as though the bout was never really going to happen in the first place, though Shooto Brazil’s Andre Pederneiras, members of both fight camps and the fighters themselves are apparently still insisting it will. The reality appears to be that this is actually a campaign to raise awareness about violence against women and support “Lei Maria da Penha,” a Brazilian law addressing such instances of violence. In other words, it’s an effort to stress those exact lessons we all should have learned as boys.

If that is indeed the purpose of all this—and it seems likely, considering that Falcao appeared to be in no shape to fight when he and Velasquez weighed in—then Pederneiras and all those involved have succeeded in getting the world talking. The outrage was definitely there and awareness has definitely been raised, but at what expense?

As much as the intent was to raise awareness and show support for the law, we all know the drill in journalism these days. The controversy resonates across print and internet news, but the follow-up explanation—the announcement of “Hey, guys, this was never really going to happen. They were never serious!”—won’t make it to more than a small percentage of those outlets, especially those outside of the realm of daily MMA coverage. In a way, Shooto Brazil yelling its intent to the world about pitting a man against a woman in an official fight could cause another black eye to a sport that’s still grappling to overcome a past in which groin strikes were legal and the sport was banned in a vast portion of the United States. In that way, it was a reckless move.

However, it’s also astonishing how much attention this fight received in the first place. No matter where you stand in your opinion of a man fighting a woman, it isn’t exactly as new as many of the reports would have one believe. Ediane Gomes fought a man in a Rio Heroes bout, and she won. Jasminka Cive did the same in a boxing ring, and she, too, was victorious. There are probably other less-documented occurrences as well (and perhaps ones where the man won and doesn’t want to admit that he beat a “girl”). Does that make it right? Of course not, but it also doesn’t mean it’s going to become a regular feature in the lineups of the UFC or any other promotion. Gomes and Cive were willing participants and they were also fighting at the lowest levels of the sport. Ask them about it, and I doubt you’ll hear them complaining. They won those fights, and you can bet they’re proud of having proved themselves against their supposedly stronger and superior male counterparts.

During The Ultimate Fighter 18, Sarah Moras talked on camera about how female fighters are tough. Take it easy on them in training, men, and they respect you less. However, an official fight brings on a whole new set of factors. It’s not just about whether they’re tough enough or even if they can win, as Gomes and Cive did. It’s also about fairness of competition. This was a hot topic of debate even when it was transgender fighter Fallon Fox, who meets the Olympic standards for competing as a female, under the microscope. Some female fighters questioned her participation, noting structural differences such as bone density and muscle mass. Though those fighters often still said they’d fight her, it was about whether she held an unfair advantage of any kind. Whereas Fox had undergone treatments to become a woman, this other scenario involves a man who does indeed still possess a vastly different biological makeup than his female counterpart. Unlike with Fox, there would be no room for debate when it comes to the question of how fair this fight would be from a purely physical standpoint.

There’s no question that the ladies who strap on four-ounce gloves are tough. There’s no denying that they belong in a cage just as much as any male fighter and are just as skilled at their craft. However, there’s certainly no reason to put them in a cage against a male fighter, especially in a sport still striving to overcome misconceptions and, even more so, prejudices against women fighting in general, such as those voiced by Australian “journalist” Buzz Rothfield.

Despite its supposed intention to promote a man vs. woman fight, Shooto Brazil’s real message appears to be that rule we learned in our youth: never hit a woman. In this case, the message that Shooto Brazil intended to deliver was commendable, but the method in which it delivered it couldn’t have been worse.

Photo: Velasquez (L) faces off with Falcao (Facebook/BrasilShooto)