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Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Women's UFC: To watch or not to watch?

By Sarah Spain

I'd like to think I'm a pretty tough chick.

Consider this short list of injuries I've suffered, sporting or otherwise: stepped on a pitchfork, took a golf club (3-wood, no less) to the temple, had my nose shattered by an illegally high field-hockey stick, tore my Achilles high jumping, and then fell down the stairs and broke my ankle (of the other leg) while recovering from the Achilles tear.

After the pitchfork I apologized for running in the garden; after the golf club I apologized for bleeding on my brand-new, collared shirt. After the broken nose I got fitted for a Rip Hamilton-style face mask and got back on the field the next game, and after the Achilles tear (and months and months of rehab) I jumped right back into heptathlon training. The broken ankle got three days of RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) but never got treated -- it was my "hopping leg," and I needed it to get around with the cast on my other leg.

Point is, I've seen my fair share of blood, visited my fair share of ERs and lived through enough ankle injuries (at least a dozen of the real good, black-and-purple kind) to turn the average person off sports for life.

Yet I am embarrassingly, ashamedly un-tough whenever I try to watch mixed martial arts.

I don't want to be that stereotypical woman shielding her eyes as the fighters pummel each other, but there I am every time, turning away in horror at the sight of a puffed-up cheekbone or a pounded-in nose. After a few failed attempts to watch fights -- including one that was stopped prematurely when a Kimbo Slice punch burst open one gentleman's balloon-sized cauliflower ear -- I decided I would be OK living my life MMA-free.

That is, until now.

On Saturday, something pretty awesome will happen. Two women will meet in the Octagon for the first women's fight in UFC history. It's something UFC president Dana White said would never -- literally, his word -- never happen. And Saturday the two women -- Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche -- will not only fight but also be the headliners.

Rousey, a former Olympic bronze-medal winner in judo, is 6-0 as a pro and has never let an opponent see the second round. In fact, five of the six women she's beaten didn't even see the second minute. She's beautiful, she's outspoken, she's funny and she's got the future of women's MMA riding on her (very strong) shoulders.

Carmouche, a former Marine Corps sergeant and Iraq war vet, is 8-2 as a pro, with seven of her eight wins coming via knockout or submission. She's a proper professional, lauding Rousey for the work she's put into raising the profile of women's MMA, and Carmouche is comfortable making headlines as the first openly gay MMA fighter. (Her fans, both straight and gay, are cleverly dubbed the "Lizbos.")

The storylines are rich and compelling, the women skilled and inspiring. I want to watch this fight. I want it to be awesome and empowering and I want it to get crazy-good ratings.

I want to root for Rousey, who has won me over with her cool confidence and her sharp tongue. In an HBO "Real Sports" profile that aired Tuesday night, she said of being considered a sex symbol, "Ever since people started calling me a sex symbol, I haven't had less sex in my life -- it's not really working out great for me." And she told them if Playboy came calling, she'd say no. "No one should be able to see my cash and prizes for $5, OK?" she quipped.

I also want to cheer on Carmouche, who bravely served our country, bravely represents gay athletes and, just a few months ago, bravely petitioned White for a chance to fight undefeated media darling Rousey. While other fighters were making excuses to avoid getting in the Octagon with the reigning champ, Carmouche was enlisting her Facebook fans and Twitter followers to bombard White with messages that she deserved a spot in the fight.

I want to watch this fight; I'm just not sure I can. Every time I try to watch mixed martial arts I'm consumed by a terrible combination of pained empathy ("Gosh, that looks like it hurts"), repulsion ("Oh my god, an arm is not supposed to bend that way") and fear ("I think someone might actually die during this fight.")

That combination is not a female thing -- plenty of women watch, write about and compete in MMA. In fact, a good friend of mine is the editor of a major fighting site, and she revels in every punch, kick and takedown. In 2011, White estimated that women made up 45 percent of the UFC fan base.

I suppose I should just accept the fact that MMA is not for everyone, but I feel a strange guilt over my inability to appreciate it. I don't necessarily enjoy the product, but I like what it stands for. I respect the women who train every day among mostly men, breaking down barriers at their local gyms, arenas and now on pay-per-view. I love that Rousey can be a sex symbol and a strong, competitive, ass-kicking female.

I just don't actually wanna see any of that ass-kicking.

Maybe I'll give it a shot Saturday. Maybe I'll head to a bar with friends and see whether I can muster up the courage to watch the whole women's fight without burying my head in my hands. Of course, I might also find myself cringing and turning away at the first sign of a broken nose or busted eye.

I guess on Saturday I'll find out how tough I really am.