The Fight Beyond the Octagon: Women in the Ultimate Fighting Championship

Natasha Navejar

Abstract


This case study discusses women’s participation in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the premier mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion company showcasing the most elite fighters in the sport. For the majority of its history, the UFC barred women from participating in its tournaments—undeniably the most visible platforms for the sport—and glorified the brutality of the male-dominated culture. Ronda Rousey, former Olympic judo medalist, was the first woman to join the ranks of the organization. Her fiery stage presence and exceptional skill ignited interest in women’s MMA and challenged the established construct of masculinity within the sport. While Rousey became one of the most dominant athletes in all of MMA and impacted the culture of the sport irrevocably, she and other female fighters still face unique, gendered challenges in a male-dominated domain compounded with the adversity they already face as participants in a controversial and misunderstood sport. Their greatest opponents are often not the other women facing them in the Octagon, but those beyond it who undermine their fighting caliber, sexualize their bodies, and question their inclusion in a traditionally masculine sport.

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