In search of a way to talk about women's MMA, without being one of 'those dudes'

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cat-zingano-1.jpgThere’s a video of Cat Zingano on YouTube. Maybe you’ve seen it. It’s called “Cat Zingano stretching,” and it delivers exactly what it promises and nothing else.

The video was shot at the open workout before Zingano’s April bout with fellow UFC women’s bantamweight Miesha Tate. It’s a little over three minutes long, and the only sound is the ambient noise of nearby conversations, interviews in progress, mats crinkling under foot – that sort of thing. We watch as Zingano moves from one end of the mat to the other, doing a series of routine stretches. At a couple points she looks over at the cameras as if to say, you’re really filming this, huh? Particular attention is paid to her ass. The video ends before the actual workout portion of her open workout begins. As of the time of this writing it has over 36,000 views.

A related video – one where both Zingano and Tate actually workout – only has about 4,200. Don’t ask why. You know why. So does Zingano. She’s seen the video.

“It kind of sucks,” she told ( “My warm-up is something that’s very calculated, something that I do a few times a day. To look at it the way it was portrayed in that video was strange.”

Strange, but not completely unexpected. Not to anyone who knows this sport, these fans, or even just the nature of the Internet. An athletic, fit woman doing a stretching routine in a sports bra and tight shorts? That could be its own website. It probably already is. Whether stuff like this can coexist alongside the desire to see two people fight it out in a cage for the sake of sport is tougher to figure.

It was during the Zingano-Tate fight that a friend who was watching across town texted me between rounds with a simple thesis.

“I don’t think we should have to pretend that women’s MMA isn’t hot,” he wrote.

I knew exactly what he meant. It helped that I also knew him, this friend who has a handful of amateur MMA fights, a purple belt in jiu-jitsu, a law degree, and a spinning back kick that will literally make you puke. I knew he was perfectly capable of appreciating the technical intricacies and the competitive spirit of the bout, but at the same time here were two young, attractive, athletic women who clearly shared at least some of his interests. Why wouldn’t he find that attractive? And why couldn’t he say so?

Still, you don’t want to be the creep who can’t stop talking about how hot women’s MMA is. We’ve all seen those dudes. They are nobody’s role models. They’re often the same dudes who yell out marriage proposals at the ring girls, and somehow still think it’s funny when they do it again two hours later. When it comes to the actual female fights, they seem like they’d be just as content watching mud wrestling. That’s why my friend feels like he has to “pretend,” because he doesn’t want to be lumped in with those dudes. I don’t blame him.

He’s someone who can appreciate the talent and skill and dedication of female fighters. He doesn’t want to treat them differently, even just from a distance as a fan, than he’d treat male fighters. But then, if you’re a man who’s attracted to women – especially strong, athletic women who are into the same sport you are – it is different. Many female fans feel no shame in ogling Georges St-Pierre (you think he’s the “pay-per-view king” because his fights are all so thrilling?). So why shouldn’t an intelligent, knowledgable, respectful fight fan like my friend be able to appreciate, simultaneously, the talent and the aesthetic appeal of female fighters?

The answer is he can, and he does. No one’s stopping him. But if you actually care about the sport of women’s MMA rather than just the sports bras, it’s worth considering what it’s like on the other side of that equation.

Take Zingano, for instance, who never asked for anyone to shoot a video of her stretching routine and make it into its own Internet curiosity. She was there to get into a cage fight, which is something she did pretty damn well. But even after she and Tate nabbed a “Fight of the Night” bonus for their three-round battle, the next morning you could still find fans on the Internet debating their looks, watching videos of them stretching, all that.

And, what, do we think they don’t see this stuff? Because they do. Zingano sure did. She was pretty sure that her fight with Tate would be well received. It had some of everything, from standup to ground work to shifting momentum to good old-fashioned violence.

“I thought it was a good fight for people to see what women can bring to the octagon,” Zingano said. “So it is kind of disappointing to go on and see what people thought of my fight and just see a bunch of unrelated, sexist things. It’s like, ‘Oh. OK. Never mind then.’

“You don’t see fans saying the same things about guy fighters, but that’s because it’s usually guys talking about this sport. Male fighters don’t look and see a bunch of people talking about his pecs or how rounded his ass is or if they can see his jockstrap lines through his shorts.”

That’s not to say that male fighters don’t get their share of crap of the Internet. They might get knocked out once and spend the next 10 years looking at photoshops of the worst night of their professional lives, which is probably no fun either. But then, at least it’s still related to something they did. Whether people are complimenting or criticizing you, when it’s related to your actions you have some modicum of control over it. When it’s all about your looks, whether you’re doing anything to call attention to them or not, it’s totally out of your hands.

It’s also, as Sara McMann pointed out, not that meaningful for a female fighter to be lusted after by a bunch of half-drunk dudes out in the darkness.

“Guys wanting to hook up with you is probably the lowest form of compliment a guy can give you,” McMann said. “It really is. That’s the bare minimum of saying something positive. If they say you’re intelligent, if they say they respect you, if they say you’re a great athlete, that is so much more meaningful in a male-dominated sport than saying, ‘Yeah, she looks hot.’”

That might be tough for some men to understand, since we’re not so accustomed to strangers commenting on our looks. It’s just not as much a part of our lives (unless you happen to be GSP). And when it does happen, it’s more likely to happen in an appropriate, expected setting, like when we’re out actively trying to meet people who might like (or at least not totally hate) the way we look.

Female fighters? They’re at work. They suffered and sacrificed because they wanted to compete, not because they wanted to look good in a pair of tight shorts. As Julie Kedzie put it, “I like compliments…but I’m not looking to get laid through my fights. I just like the sport.”

Which is, after all, the thing that all of us have in common, the thing that brings us into one another’s orbit. It seems worth it to stop and remind ourselves every now and then.

(Pictured: Cat Zingano)

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