I'll be honest. When they first announced the addition of a women's division in the UFC, I was nervous. While I count myself among the MMA intellectuals, as I assume most everybody reading an article like this would as well, there is still that small-but-loud portion of the fan base that gives mixed martial arts a bad rep. Those who watch the sport for the pure violence of it rather than the technique. They can't help but make homophobic remarks when a fight goes to the ground or to scoff at the notion that a 125 lb guy could take them in a fight. Now listen, anyone who supports MMA is okay with me, but nevertheless, certain groups and individuals can have a big impact on how the sport is perceived by the general public.
I remember Ariel Helwani once saying that there are people who enjoy watching fights at home, and those who prefer to go out to a sports bar for an event. I'm in the latter category. I can remember heading to the bar to watch my first WMMA fight and not knowing what to expect from the people around me. Would I hear a combination of cat calling and crude jokes or perhaps a groan as fight fans turned away from the action in disgust. I had seen women fight before and fully understood that they were capable of throwing down with the best of them. I also believed that plenty of others would have a similar outlook and would watch with the same enthusiasm as any other fight. And then, I fully expected to witness the aforementioned negativity from a significant percentage of the patrons. However, the reality of what happened next was something I didn't see coming at all.
Perhaps it was that particular crowd at that particular bar that night. Perhaps I was so overwhelmed by what I was seeing that I overlooked a few detractors. But in truth, I can only remember one major reaction that day - pure, universal acceptance. I was proud of my fellow fight fan, and even prouder of humanity as a whole. Transcending racial, national, and now gender lines, mixed martial arts had once again proven to be the great equalizer. It is, in my opinion, the reason why the sport is growing so quickly. We respect the guys we hate. We cheer the victors and pity the losers. We want action, but we fear for serious injuries. All of these feelings stem from acceptance. It suddenly occurred to me that there was no need for me to worry. Of course MMA fans would be accepting of female fighters. They are some of the most open minded people on the planet, despite any stereotypes that may suggest otherwise.
I suppose that's the reason that Matt Brown's comments made such big waves this week. He wasn't voicing a popular opinion. His comments seemed outdated and out of touch with reality. The UFC has a professional obligation to speak out against Brown. They've made a big investment in WMMA and need to protect that investment. But the reaction from fellow fighters and fans was incentive-free and strongly encouraging. This past week has backed up the realization I arrived at that night in the bar. It's concrete evidence of how far women have come in this sport and I couldn't be happier with the fallout. That being said, Matt Brown is certainly not alone in his opinion. There are still those factions of fans who feel the way Brown does and it will take some time for those fans to come around. But I am confident that they will get there eventually, and in the meantime, let's just be glad that the majority of fans and fighters are giving the ladies the respect the deserve. Well earned.