Monday, March 2, 2015

Lessons from UFC, or Allowing Women to Seize the Day

Paige may not get to tap opponents in 14 seconds like Ronda Rousey, but she can do equivalent sports entertainment things
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The only match on RAW that featured women last week went 30 seconds. It sparked a major campaign for WWE to treat its women performers better. UFC 184 featured a headline bout between two women. The match went only 14 seconds, and yet it was heralded as a major success. Of course, comparing sport to entertainment is extreme folly. And honestly, UFC's track record with women isn't exactly sterling to say the least. For example, color commentator and "comedian" Joe Rogan's history with women is atrocious. From going on message boards and calling Maggie Hendricks a term derived from the c-word because she didn't want to see her colleagues get threatened by Rampage Jackson in 2011 to recently saying that selling a Ronda Rousey fight was difficult, it's easy to see that misogyny is strong with him. I don't want to make sweeping generalizations about MMA culture, but at the same time, it's not hard to see why such attitudes can thrive in that kind of environment.

But for as much as some of the prominent figures in UFC seem to hate women, the company is streets ahead of WWE in that it sees women as competitors. Sure, no one is able to last long enough against Rousey to sell her attractions as anything more than the MMA equivalent of 1980s Mike Tyson demolitions, but she's not exactly being hidden behind more mediocre male fighters for false reasons about her drawing power. People tend to gravitate towards dominance and cult of personality, and Rousey seems to have both (the latter for the wrong reasons, but that's neither here nor there). The fact that UFC seems to get that makes the organization somewhat ahead of what WWE has.

Does WWE have someone analogous to Rousey though? It's hard because the skillsets are different. Rousey beats the shit out of relative tomato cans to the point where she's almost demanding to be put against men, and hoo boy, if you like BOTH wrestling and MMA and you were annoyed by the intergender wrestling argument, you're gonna be in for a treat over the coming months when people start questioning whether she can fight men without damaging her bone structure or some psuedoscientific shit.

Anyway, she forced her way into the main event, and lo and behold, people are flocking to her. In wrestling, what can a woman do when most of what she can do is limited by the agents and the producers? They have to seize what they can in a shorter amount of time, in a medium where unlike real fighting, the shorter the time you produce, the worse the results usually are.

And yet, women on the main roster have been doing their best with little ring-time. Most recently, Paige came out dressed in a ridiculous Little Bo Peep costume on acid and showed more swag in a single-digit minute window than anyone except for Shinsuke Nakamura has shown over the course of a whole week. The signs are there; women can go out and hold the crowds in the palm of their hands in a wrestling ring. But WWE, unlike UFC, turns a blind eye to it because reasons.

Misogyny is rampant in sports and sports entertainment, and it will continue to be as long as the hypermasculine macho man continues to be held up as an ideal. But strides can be taken to improve representation. It's not ideal at all, because ideally, equality would be seized and shoved down the throats of every misogynist crying about bone structure or suspension of disbelief. But any gain needs to be taken where it can. WWE and UFC are as different as different can be, but at the same time, the similarities in terms of how talent can move up and down the card  and in the crowds are important to note.

One could even make the argument that UFC's crowds are tougher to please than WWE's in terms of diversity, and Ronda Rousey, through sheer force of will, has won them over. If she can seize MMA fans' attentions, then couldn't someone like Paige be allowed to do the same for WWE? If Sara del Rey can be the most over wrestler on the Chikara roster, if SHIMMER can draw standing room only crowds for marathon weekend tapings, if NXT's women can arguably outshine the men because they're given the same opportunities, then shouldn't it follow that the main roster women can do the same?

It's 2015. Sexism has no excuse to be given quarter in any arena. If UFC, which I stress still has a long way to go, can allow its women fighters to seize agency, then why can't WWE do the same?