It’s easy to recognize that MMA continues to be male-dominated today. Simply click through any martial arts channel, and you’re guaranteed to see content that is 95% dedicated to men’s leagues. This is especially true in women’s MMA, where female fighters have a difficult roadblock to overcome—to establish acceptance in a ring that has long been associated with masculinity. We’re exploring how the media depicts female and male MMA athletes and why making a space for women’s MMA to gain ground is essential.

The perception of ‘bigger and stronger’

The typical attitude to women’s MMA is what’s driving the gap in media coverage relative to men’s MMA. What causes this lack of viewership is that women’s MMA isn’t at the calibre of men’s. Therefore, it’s not worth being watched; moreover, there’s this bigger, stronger, faster mentality. Historically, the traits associated with women are gentle, passive, caring, and empathetic—characteristics that have no place in a fighting cage. On the contrary, men were seen as the hunters, strong, fast, and agile. 

The domino effect this attitude produces is poor consumer interest, which results in poor investor interest, ultimately causing a lack of space for women’s MMA within the sport as a whole. However, the accelerated growth and demand for women’s MMA act as irrefutable proof that fans are starting to accept women as sports champions.

Weight Category in MMA for Men and Women

Weight categories ensure fair competition between fighters of similar size and weight in MMA. Remember that these categories can change over time, so it's always best to refer to the specific rules and regulations of the MMA organization in question.

Men's Weight Categories:

  1. Strawweight: Up to 115 pounds (52 kg)
  2. Flyweight: Up to 125 pounds (56 kg)
  3. Bantamweight: Up to 135 pounds (61 kg)
  4. Featherweight: Up to 145 pounds (65 kg)
  5. Lightweight: Up to 155 pounds (70 kg)
  6. Welterweight: Up to 170 pounds (77 kg)
  7. Middleweight: Up to 185 pounds (83 kg)
  8. Light Heavyweight: Up to 205 pounds (93 kg)
  9. Heavyweight: Over 205 pounds (93 kg)

Women's Weight Categories:

  1. Atomweight: Up to 105 lbs (48 kg)
  2. Strawweight: Up to 115 pounds (52 kg)
  3. Flyweight: Up to 125 pounds (56 kg)
  4. Bantamweight: Up to 135 pounds (61 kg)
  5. Featherweight: Up to 145 pounds (65 kg)

It's important to note that the weight limit represents the upper limit for each category, and fighters must weigh in at or below the specified limit during official weigh-ins to be eligible to compete in that weight class. Additionally, some organizations might have additional or slightly different weight classes, so the exact weight categories can vary depending on the specific MMA promotion.

Growth and Popularity of Women's Mixed Martial ArtsHypersexualization of women in sport

 Women's MMA has experienced significant growth and popularity over the past decade. Prior to this period, the sport was not as widely recognized or promoted compared to the men's divisions. However, with the rise of talented female fighters and increased media coverage, the landscape of women's MMA has evolved dramatically. Several key factors have contributed to the growth and popularity of women's mixed martial arts, including:

  1. UFC Embracing Women's MMA The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the world's largest and most prominent MMA promotion, played a crucial role in elevating women's MMA to the mainstream. In 2013, the UFC introduced its first-ever women's division with the signing of former Strikeforce champion Ronda Rousey. Rousey became a global star and helped bring attention to women's MMA.
  2. Iconic Fighters: The emergence of talented and charismatic female fighters has been pivotal in drawing fans to women's MMA. Fighters like Ronda Rousey, Cris Cyborg, Amanda Nunes, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, and others have showcased high-level skills and captivating personalities, becoming major attractions in the sport.
  3. High-Quality Competitions: As more women entered the sport, the overall level of competition in women's MMA significantly improved. This increase in skill and talent has led to more exciting and competitive fights, making it appealing to fans.
  4. Media Coverage and Exposure: With the growth of social media and streaming platforms, it has become easier for fans to access women's MMA content. Moreover, mainstream media began to cover women's MMA more extensively, providing more exposure and recognition to female fighters.
  5. Rise of Women's MMA Organizations: Apart from the UFC, several other MMA promotions, such as Bellator MMA and Invicta FC, and us here at Pallas Athena, have focused on developing and promoting women's divisions. These organizations have given female fighters more opportunities to showcase their skills and gain recognition.

As a result of these factors, women's MMA has become a significant and respected part of the sport. Female fighters headline major events, draw substantial pay-per-view numbers, and are considered some of the sport's biggest stars. The growth and popularity of women's mixed martial arts have undoubtedly contributed to MMA's overall expansion and global appeal.

The Hypersexualization of Women in Sports

The media has long been hypersexualizing female fighters to gain clicks and attention. This impact comes with a range of mixed thoughts and two varying kinds of results. One group will argue that the overly sexualized media coverage of women MMA fighters is harmful and pushes women back hundreds of years. Meanwhile, another will say that tapping into this strategy to garner attention can be beneficial. 

Initially, what drew spectators was, without question, the physical attractiveness of female fighters like Michelle Waterson, Gina Carano, and Ronda Rousey. However, it was—and still is—the technical and physical skills of these fighters that established women’s MMA

What’s Next for Female Fighters?

Despite the challenges of gender stereotypes, female fighters continue to prove time and again that women can hold their own in what’s seen as male territory and demand respect through strength, athleticism, and technique. Although the popularity of women’s MMA is booming, the industry is still predominantly men. 

At Pallas Athena Women’s Fighting Championship, we see this as an opportunity to bring women to the forefront of Mixed Martial Arts by promoting women and offering competitive sporting events