I normally wait and give a catchy title to links, but I’m just going to post this link. These are the first two episodes of UFC Primetime, a series designed to sell fights for the Ultimate Fighting Championship namely because it features two wildly divergent personalities that a person would want to see punch each other in the face. Yet this is something a bit different to approach. On February 23rd, a first occurs in the UFC which is weirdly insane considering the UFC’s mainstream attitude: two women not only fight in the UFC octagon for the first time in the organization’s 20 year history but they fight in the main event.
Now, I’m not really going to talk much about the fight in relation to how successful it would be. No, I want to bring the art of these UFC Primetime programs as stand alone stories. The two women fighting in the main event are Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche. I don’t expect many people to know either, but if they know anyone, they know Rousey. Rousey by virtue of her Strikeforce fights and yes, because she looks conventionally attractive, has become a media darling the level of the last major fighter to break into the mainstream from women’s mixed martial arts, Gina Carano.
I got into an interesting debate on the discussion of women in sports this past weekend. Well, debate might be the wrong term. A friend asked if he was sexist for not viewing the WNBA as an interesting league. I don’t think I had a good defense. As a matter of fact, I think my language was more problematic than anything else. Unfortunately, without female athletes being placed into male athletics, it is hard to really tell. I want to assume we’re all equal, but I just don’t know. It hasn’t happened yet, and I would be worried about the chaos it will take for this to be any different. Maybe it’s a boys club in major sports.
This only makes the UFC booking this fight under their all inclusive banner all the more progressive. Even though Dana White had famously decried that he would never book women fighters, what White says and what he actually does is significantly different.
But let us discuss the stories engaged in these specials and why it becomes extremely progressive in a sporting contest. White and UFC match-maker Joe Silva have expertly cast an opponent of fascination for Rousey in Carmouche. To spoil a bit of the first episode, Carmouche is an out lesbian. This is not used in any way but to simply note her as a tough fighting folk hero for the LGBT community. Carmouche is a massive underdog in the fight itself, but the special immediately makes her into a star. It’s not to say that Rousey isn’t intriguing, as Rousey fights with a technique that is at a top level for any trained fighter, male or female. But it is to say that Carmouche is totally appealing to a market that suddenly sees a nuance to an organization that hires people like this on their payroll.
Now don’t get me wrong, before these Primetimes, this fight looked like a sole building fight for the media darling Rousey, who has appeared (among other things) in ESPN The Magazine’s body issue. But now, things are different. Liz Carmouche is a genuinely interesting person and very personable to the community she represents. I mean, the girl has a rainbow heart on her fight attire. She even calls her Twitter fandom Lizbos. Carmouche has been the most genuinely fascinating mixed martial artist (as a person, not as a fighter) since probably Forrest Griffin, and Griffin’s intrigue was only based on a slight insanity he held as well as insane books he co-wrote.
This is not to say these Primetimes aren’t still implicitly about Rousey’s stardom as well as her coming to grips with exploiting the death of her father as a means of fame. This is intriguing in its own right as well as Rousey’s admittedly sexless training process (her humor in the Real Sports clip above akin to Jennifer Lawrence). But this is why these episodes have been the best of the show’s run. Instead of merely being about two guys cutting promos, it is about two lifestyles and humanity with different mindsets. Rousey is fine with courting controversy. Carmouche is reserved, but still somehow radical. Almost makes me not want to see people punch each other in the face.