Call it this generation’s Billie Jean King vs Bobby Riggs “Battle of the Sexes” match, or call it a publicity stunt, but tomorrow two brazilian mixed martial arts fighters might make history by taking part in the very first male vs. female MMA professional fight.
According to the website the Bleacher Report, boxing promoting company Shooto Brazil has added Emerson Falcao, a bantamweight fighter with a professional record of 0-1, versus Juliana Velasquez, a lady fighter, whose record is 0-0 and will be making her professional debut, to its Friday night fight card in Rio de Janeiro. If the fight happens, it would be the first time any MMA confederation has sanctioned a mixed gender match – of course, the key word is if.
Outside of promotional flyers, distributed through Shooto Brazil’s Facebook and Twitter pages, few other details about the announced matchup have been revealed, including if the fight will even be allowed to happen. And the website, MMA Fighting, is reporting that the Brazilian Mixed Martial Arts Confederation, which Shooto Brazil is a member of, is not even sure if they will allow the mixed gender fight to happen. Likewise, there are questions about Falcao’s physical ability to fight, especially in lieu of a message on the man’s personal Facebook page saying that he was injured and wouldn’t be able to fight until next year. This has sparked all sorts of speculation on various sports blogs and other online forums about if this match is just a clever ploy to fill ringside seats.
Nevertheless, MMA Fighting has confirmed with Velasquez that the fight card is real and that she is up for the challenge. Velasquez tells the website the following:
“Andre Pederneiras came up with the idea… He asked Team Nogueira for a female fighter and my team believes I’m ready, so I accepted the challenge. My expectations are the best. I’m well trained to get there and win. I’m used to training with man every day. I’m a professional judoka and I know the adrenaline of the competition, I know how to handle this.”
While Velasquez might be the first MMA woman fighter to cross gender lines, she will not be the first woman to fight in a mixed boxing match. That honor goes to Margaret McGregor, who on October 9, 1999 defeated Loi Chow in a four-round junior lightweight professional boxing match held in Seattle, Wa. Of course, that bout was not without controversy, particularly controversial claims that McGregor, who was 3-0 against all female competitors, had a easy competitive advantage over Chow, who not only had not professionally won a fight, but hadn’t fought in three years prior to their matchup.
Velasquez may believe she is up for the challenge (and judging by his record as well as reports of injury, I’m guessing she stands a solid chance), but there is also that regressive part of me that doesn’t want her to get hurt. Because you know, we all believe that men are naturally physically stronger than women. Even science tells us that men have a competitive advantage thanks to more upper-body strength and testosterone levels. She might be setting herself up for a serious beating, and not just an Adrien Broner butt-whooping, but a MMA whooping where fighters are allowed to kick (hard) and punch everything.
But testosterone and upper body muscle mass is not everything. In boxing as well as mixed martial arts, technique is just as important as how hard someone can hit or kick. And there is no reason to believe that a woman is incapable of learning the same, if not better, hitting and kicking technical skills and abilities as her male counterparts. With that said, I’m not exactly sure of the gain in this MMA fight, outside of some cheap controversy/advertising. Mixed gender matches are rarely performed outside of novelty, so the promise of longevity for either boxer’s career after the fact is not guaranteed. Not to mention, I’m not at all naïve to believe that a man would be incapable of hitting a woman, especially with all of his might. The global domestic violence statistics confirm that. I get that the cheeky fun is that we, for once, get to watch a woman, by way of professionally trained mixed martial arts, hit back. But what if she is not winning? The question then becomes, who is going to want to watch, and cheer on, a man beating up on a woman?