This weekend MMA fans across the world were treated to one of the most magical nights in MMA history. The UFC made their long awaited return to Japan where Lightweight champion and comeback king Frankie Edgar was to defend his title against the unsubmitable Benson Henderson. The fight was spectacular, it was filled with back and forth action, shifts in momentum, slick striking, technical grappling and brute force. It was one of the most remarkable displays of martial arts I have ever seen, which makes what I want to discuss even more disappointing. During the fight, Twitter was erupting with adoration for Frankie Edgars toughness and grit, tweet after tweet (from respected MMA writers) read, “what a manly performance”, “what a man!”. Not only do statements like this reduce martial arts to faux masculinity and frat boy-ism, it brings light to a bigger problem: Equating toughness, grit, heart, persistance, and skill to manliness. If his performance was “manly”, is a fighter who doesn’t fight with the same tenacity “womanly”? Was Meisha Tates title winning performance against Marloes Coenen also “manly”?
MMA isn’t just for boys anymore, when we start to call certain skill sets or traits “manly” we leave out the talented and successful women in the sport we love. During a time in this sports short history in which we’re trying to convince the general public that there’s more to MMA than blood and broken limbs, I think we can do ourselves a great service by dismissing these terms and referring to amazing fighters as exactly what they are: Amazing athletes. What Frankie Edgar (or Tim Boestch for that matter) accomplished is nothing short of amazing. The heart he has shown over and over throughout his career has little to do with his “masculinity” and everything to do with an iron will and determination. Reducing something so awe inspiring to a term thats rather exclusive is not only lazy, but its disrespectful. I may sound like a broken record, but its time that we give MMA the respect it deserves. Gender specific terms have absolutely no place in a sport for everyone.