“Show me everybody, naked and disfigured, nothing’s shocking” sang Jane’s Addiction’s Perry Farrell back in 1988. Fast-forward over a quarter-century, and you’ll find that there are still plenty of easily shocked people in the world. Welcome to 2015, where female fighters are firmly part of the MMA landscape, yet outsiders can’t help but opine on how they should look and act and carry themselves.

Women’s MMA has arrived (it arrived years ago), is sustainable, and garners a ton of interest, more so than almost any other pro sport involving women short of tennis and a small handful of others. Ronda Rousey is one of the most recognizable fighters in the world, and a cross-over star taking off in Hollywood, like Gina Carano before her. Women have finally managed to break into a traditionally “male” sport and not only have they become a key part of it, they often steal the show, through sheer grit, skill, and determination.

Yet every time a big fight rolls around with a top female fighter, or a conventionally “attractive” girl signs to fight with a major promotion, the sex question gets marched out again and again: Is she popular because of her looks? Are they being being booked (as Paige VanZant has suggested about her recently announced bout with Felice Herrig) because they’re “hot girls” (her words) rather than because of the quality of their work?

Should female fighters use their sexuality to garner interest, up viewership numbers, and win over fans? Everyone has an opinion, when the answer should be “who cares?” It’s their choice, their careers, after all.

You would think, in a sport as inherently violent as mixed martial arts — regulated, yes, but still violent — that a little bit of the old “sex sells” adage would be unlikely to raise many eyebrows. After all, the fans have few qualms about combatants fighting through injury, no matter how bloody, in the cage. And yet despite this, there seems to be a rather staunch divide between those who accept female fighters using a bit of sexuality to drum up extra interest in their fights, and those who feel it cheapens the sport.

Sex and violence both sell, but in the end, one seems more accepted than the other.

The question is, why?

First off, in answer to the question at the core of all this: what a girl does with her career, and how she presents herself, is her own business, same as it is for any guy. Female fighters are no different than male fighters in that regard. They’re a mixed bag of beliefs, opinions, and each will have their own moral code. Did anyone give Georges St. Pierre grief for appearing in a hot tub full of bikini clad women while at the height of his career? Did it somehow detract from his image as one of the greatest ambassadors for Mixed Martial Arts the sport had ever seen?

No, of course not. GSP was simply seen as a human being. And if a female fighter wants to show off her sexuality, well that’s her choice (so long as it is, in fact, her choice, and not something a promoter is pushing her towards). We accept ring/octagon girls, after all.

MMA fans have come to accept a certain amount of spectacle in their sport. We see it in the antics of the Sonnens and McGregors of the sport, who are as adept at promoting fights as they are at fighting them (though that’s not to say they aren’t great fighters). We see it in match-ups that have no business being made, or at least headlining cards (Ortiz-Bonnar, or arguably Cro-Cop vs. Gonzaga 2). We know we’re being sold a bit of snake oil in these bouts, but we buy it willingly nonetheless, or at least many of us do.

So why is it so hard to accept that some female fighters will use their image to attract eyeballs in a sport that rewards popularity almost as much as athletic ability?  Why do fans and media members alike dedicate so much time to debating the necessity of it, rather than simply allowing the fighters themselves to dictate how they wish to portray themselves and carry out their careers?

Why do fighters like Sara McMann have to state, as she did on Bloody Elbow recently, that “women can own their sexuality without being, you know, slutty” and “if you want to be a sexy woman, be a sexy woman.”

It’s not 1968. It’s not 1988. Why is this even an issue?

About The Author

Senior Staff Writer

Covering the sport of MMA from Ontario, Canada, Jay Anderson has been writing for various publications covering sports, technology, and pop culture since 2001. Jay holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Guelph, and a Certificate in Leadership Skills from Humber College under the Ontario Management Development Program. When not slaving at the keyboard, he can be found in the company of his dog, a good book, or getting lost in the woods.