“The Half-Guarded Truth”
By: Mike Coughlin
Girl-Power – no, that’s awful. UFC 157: Beauty and the Best.”
Liz Carmouche is a big ol’ lesbian. The first openly-gay fighter in UFC history fights on Saturday in the first ever women’s fight on a UFC card. In the main-event of a PPV. For the world championship of all the women on earth who can weigh 135 lbs (for approximately fifteen minutes). Carmouche is even a former marine who served while Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was policy. “She hid her sexuality to serve her country. Now, she is no longer hiding and is ready for her next war!” What a tag line that would’ve been.
And no one is talking about it, because a pretty girl named Ronda Rousey is also fighting. (In the same match, no less – defending her title!)
Carmouche is actually a pretty big deal. A cursory search of the Internet (Google, which lead me to Wikipedia, which is never wrong) reveals that baseball - around longer than modern Italy has been a country - has never had a player who was known to be gay during his playing days. (Two have come out after they retired.) There has never been a known gay playing in the NFL. (Known gay sounds so threatening, doesn’t it?) There have been more than 230 combined years of Major League Baseball and National Football League action and never once has there been an openly gay participant. The UFC has been around less than 20 years. Cage-fighting: more progressive than baseball and football.
It will be a bigger deal
if when a gay man fights in the UFC. Homosexuality is far more accepted in women’s athletics (and, I’d guess that lesbians are more accepted in society in general, due in part to men being pigs – sometimes, equality comes quicker through a zipper than an argument). There are openly gay women on the women’s soccer team, in the WNBA, and there’s also Ellen. Still, the UFC is about as macho a sport as you can possibly find: dudes beating each other up inside a steel cage while a bunch of drunken fans scream obscenities. Forgive me for stereotyping, but “Drunken Violence Lover” isn’t normally the most gay-friendly crowd. Yet, a gay fighter fights a big fight in front of fight fans and it’s just kind of … there as a background story. It certainly isn’t the story of the weekend.
The story is 135 lb World Champion Ronda Rousey, mostly because she’s pretty and never shuts up. In every way possible, Rousey is a modern day Muhammad Ali. (Just give me a moment.) I don’t know if it’s true, but I once heard a story that Ali (then Clay) came home from the Olympics as a Gold Medalist, got on a bus, and no one knew who he was - but they all knew the local pro wrestler. Ali saw that being a brash loud-mouth got you attention (and thus money), so he began to flap his gums and the rest is history. Again, I have no clue if this is true, but it sounds true, so that’s good enough for my purposes today.
Fast-forward several decades and Ronda Rousey comes back from the 2008 Olympic Games having made history: becoming the first American woman to ever win a medal in Olympic Judo. But, she arrives home and, yup!, no one has a clue who she is. She has no money, and even though she’s a world-class athlete, “I can throw people” isn’t exactly what most employers look for on a resume. So, she starts doing women’s MMA and does real well, beating everyone, breaking arms, and generally just being a class above the competition. She’s good looking too. No, she’s not a supermodel, but she’s attractive and while Drunken Violence Lovers may not always be pro-gay, they tend to be pro-pretty. But she isn’t just pretty, she can talk too. And she never stops talking. Her mouth gets her more and more attention. She gets title shots in non-UFC promotions “before she’s earned it.” (She wins the belt in less than five minutes, mangling the champion’s arm in the process.) She brings so much attention to a niche within an already niche sport that the UFC finally decides to introduce a women’s division to the company. Like, literally, she is the reason women now fight in the UFC. Olympic champion, comes home, is anonymous, talks so much that everyone notices, makes money. See, exactly like Ali!
But a pretty woman doing well in sports isn’t a first. Maria Sharapova is pretty damn good looking; Anna Kournikova was more model than athlete, but she was still a decent tennis player at one time; and personally, I find half the US women’s soccer team attractive. Heck, Rousey isn’t even alone this weekend as far as being pretty and successful in a male-dominated sport. Danica Patrick won the pole position (and thus gave hack late-night hosts a week’s worth of jokes) for Sunday’s Daytona 500 NASCAR racing car event. A high-profile gay fighter seems like it should be bigger news than “Pretty Girl Makes Good”, but it isn’t.
If past is prologue, Rousey will win on Saturday with an armbar in the first round – because that’s what has happened in every single one of her previous nine fights. If she doesn’t win, then the UFC will have its first openly gay world champion! If that happens, I’ll bet Rousey is still the story; we all care about Pretty more than Gay. That’s societal progress. I think.
Mike Coughlin sometimes hosts Five Star Radio. He’s as gay as he is straight.