Women in MMA: Breaking Barriers and Setting Records

Despite the fourth wave of feminism, women still don’t have it as easy as men. In the biggest part of the world, gender roles are still the narrative that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. The wage gap is real, as is the glass ceiling. Whether in STEM, medicine, showbiz, or sports, women are still fighting many obstacles. One of the fields where disproportion is the biggest is sports, especially male-dominated sports such as MMA.

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WMMA Image: Empowering or Not?

Women in MMA are no longer a novelty. Even though it attracts only 10% of the female audience, the number of women fighters is constantly growing. And so are the controversies. 

UC Riverside study on female MMA athletes shows a great discrepancy between how the public perceives the sport versus how the athletes see it. The study lead, Justen Hamilton, claims that the sport is marketed as empowering for all women, both those fighting and those who aren’t. However, female MMA athletes see their achievements as personal victories.

According to Hamilton, the focus on individual benefits, rather than communal ones, prevents female MMA fighters from negotiating better deals, sponsorships and overall treatment. Still, there are plenty of fighting pioneers who helped women earn their spot in the match in the first place.

Although the most prominent MMA fighting organization, the UFC has existed since 1993. It took it 20 years to accept women in their ranks. Namely, women were allowed to fight in 2013.

Notwithstanding all this, there are still plenty of fighters who serve as a source of inspiration to upcoming MMA generations.

Amanda Nunes: The Lioness

For many, the greatest female martial artist of all time, Amanda Nunes was born in Brazil, in 1988. Albeit not famous outside the MMA world, she was the first fighter to become a two-division UFC champion. Nunes was also the third fighter to hold UFC titles in two weight classes at the same time. The other two fighters that achieved it were Conor McGregor and Daniel Cormier.

Her walk to fame was not an easy one. As the only woman in a fighting academy and no other place to stay, she was often the one in charge of cleaning facilities, simply because she was a girl. Even so, her brave attitude earned her the nickname Leoa (lioness).

Ronda Rousey: The WMMA Celebrity

Ronda Rousey was the first female fighter to capitalize on her success big time. One of the most marketable faces in the industry, she inked deals with Monster energy drinks and Reebok. She is famous for combining:

  • Judo;
  • Wrestling;
  • Jiu Jitsu. 

She is famous for her unstoppable strikes. 

Rousey is one of the very few fighters who managed to hit the mainstream, primarily by appearing on television, in movies, and even in video games. Though being retired, she is still worth 14 million dollars.

Cris Cyborg: The Knockout Goddess

This Brazilian MMA fighter is famous for being aggressive, and for being the only MMA fighter in history to become a Grand Slam Champion. Born as Cristiane Justino Venâncio, she began as a capoeira fighter, only to quickly switch to Muay Thai and Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

Throughout her career, Cyborg never failed to mention how fighting comes easy for her, as she has always been a target.

Famous for her striking knockouts and relentless characters, Cris is also one of the biggest philanthropists in the world of fighting. She works with a non-profit aiming to build wells for Ugandan Pygmies.

Joanna Jedrzejczyk: Slavic Power

Joanna Jedrzejczyk was born in Poland and as a devoted Catholic finds much of her strength in prayer, however, Muay Thai and kickboxing skills definitely help. Despite being one of the best in her category, Joanna faces many prejudices: she was called wild, savage, and violent.

Like a true girl boss, she never allowed haters to affect her: “I’m not cocky. I’m not arrogant. I know my value.”

Valentina Shevchenko: The Bullet

Valentina Anatolievna Shevchenko, despite her age, doesn’t plan on stopping. The Kyrgyzstani and Peruvian MMA fighter is one of the best in history, and a force to be reckoned with. Regarded as one of the premier Muay Thai fighters globally, throughout her career, Shevchenko has triumphed over four UFC champions. 

Due to her explosive speed and unstoppable power, she earned the nickname The Bullet. Valentina has nothing against it. In fact, she agrees with it: “I can do back fists, spinning kicks. I have more options, and I can show better striking.” Shevchenko is also considered to be one of the best Muay Thai fighters on the planet.

Long Way to Go

Women in MMA have made remarkable strides, proving their skill, determination, and athleticism in the sport. Yet, there is a long way to go. Regardless of their determination, they are paid considerably less than their male counterparts. In 2019, the highest-paid male fighter earned over $700,000 in the UFC 241 event. At the same time, the highest-earning female fighter made less than $30,000. The wage gap is usually around 40%. Perhaps by approaching empowerment as the common goal rather than individual, they will reach the levels of fame they deserve.