Seattle slugfest makes women’s sporting history as UFC features first match between lesbian fighters

In reflecting on the UFC’s historic fight between two lesbian fighters featured on UFC on Fox 8, it is another statement in the promotion’s effort in bolstering the women’s division. As 2013 emerges as the Year of the Female Fighters in UFC, it is a long overdue event finally earning its share of the spotlight.

Despite the ground breaking historical impact of the match between Liz Carmouche and Jessica Andrade, it certainly augments debate among the most hardened of sports cynics. From the outset, one cannot help but wonder if this was for sheer publicity. Does this event help generate interest among lesbians?

If there were two UFC male fighters that were gay, the odds of such a match being promoted are unlikely. There is no question that UFC has a very manly and somewhat barbaric feel to it. If a male fighter even felt comfortable admitting to being gay, it could unleash significant backlash due to insensitive remarks and the possibility that some fighters may not feel comfortable fighting a gay man.

Of note, Carmouche (known affectionately as Girlrilla) was the first openly gay fighter, among women and men in UFC. A former United States Marine, the 29 year-old sports an 9-3 mark who turned UFC on its ear when she challenged Ronda Rousey at UFC 157. Originally, she was supposed to fight Miesha Tate in the match but Tate was rescheduled to face Rousey in December.

The weigh-in between Carmouche (left) and Andrade before their ground-breaking UFC fight

The weigh-in between Carmouche (left) and Andrade before their ground-breaking UFC fight

Her role as a pioneering female athlete may still take time to absorb. From being called a role model by kids, to seeing more female fighters train in her community to the invitations to appear in Pride Parades, Carmouche may quickly become as big a household name as Ronda Rousey.

While Andrade, a 21 year-old fighter from Brazil whose record is 9-3, has certainly helped to impact people’s lives also, this was her first fight in the United States. As the youngest fighter in the UFC, her nickname is Bate Estaca, which is Brazilian for Piledriver. She acquired the nickname after trying to use the illegal move during a jiu-jitsu event in Brazil.

This was the issue that Carmouche faced when she was in the Marine Corps. Closeted during her time serving her country, she admitted her same-sex preference from the beginning of her fighting career. In that regard, the groundbreaking fight is definitely liberating for these two fighters as they can express who they are.

It is ironic that UFC is the one sporting promotion that openly discussed the lesbian topic without fear of reprisal or controversy. While other sports have had female athletes such as Sami Grisafe (football), Sheryl Swoopes (basketball) and Sarah Vaillancourt (hockey) publicly admit their same-sex preference, there are many more who only admit to such a thing after retirement.

With the Fox network having broadcast the event, these two exceptionally conditioned athletes showed that they earned their recognition in the national spotlight. Although the first round saw the fighters engage in back-and-forth grappling, Andrade actually picked up Carmouche and slammed her to the mat. With Carmouche in an arm-in guillotine, she fell behind in the score 10-9 to Andrade.

After trading leg kicks to start the second round, Carmouche took charge. Although Andrade escaped a rear naked choke, Carmouche would get her in a high mount. Engaging in a ground-and-pound, referee Herb Dean stopped the match and awarded the decision to Carmouche.

While Carmouche mentioned to the Vancouver Province (prior to the fight) that they were matched up due to their exciting fighting styles, fans can only hope that the future will see more fighters judged on their athleticism and not their preferences.

Sheila Gaff’s sad footnote in UFC history could be redeemed by a comeback

With the emergence of Ronda Rousey as a household name, the women’s division in UFC is quickly taking shape as one of the jewels of the Mixed Martial Arts crown. As the impact of women in MMA continues to grow and take shape, there too are its casualties.

German fighter Sheila Gaff has become the first woman to be released by the ultra-popular UFC promotion. Measuring in at 5’5” with a lifetime mark of 10-6-1, Gaff made her MMA debut on September 2, 2006 and had previously fought in Cage Warriors. After a first round TKO suffered at the hands of Brazilian fighter Amanda Nunes at UFC 163, her promising career was cut short.

While American MMA fans may not have had the opportunity to witness her potential as a fighter, the long road back begins for Gaff. Having fought as both a bantamweight and a flyweight, Gaff was part of the first groundbreaking group of women signed by UFC.

As a flyweight, Gaff was very successful. Winning her first three flyweight bouts on the independent circuit, her elevation to the UFC bantamweight ranks resulted in two successive losses. Prior to the loss to Nunes, she was soundly defeated at UFC 159 in April 2013. Gaff suffered a first round by Sara McMann, the first American woman to receive a silver medal in wrestling in the Summer Games (achieved at Athens 2004).

The news of this release is the bookend in a groundbreaking 2013 for women’s MMA as a viable and popular event. On February 24, 2013, Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche entered the octagon in the first-ever women’s match in UFC history.

As the women’s division in UFC only has 13 fighters (prior to Gaff’s release), it seemed a bit unfair to grant her a release. Should UFC hope to attract female fans or aspiring fighters, the release of Gaff sends a negative message.

While some fighters are simply not talented enough, there is something to be said for grooming talent or allowing for a three-strike rule; if a competitor lost their first three fights (or three consecutive fights later) in the promotion, they would face a release. With only one women’s weight class in UFC, it is only natural that some fighters may be better suited for an alternative weight class.

In this case, Gaff was more competitive as a flyweight. Should UFC’s popular with the female division lead to a grouping of weight classes, Gaff could be a contender in a potential flyweight division.

Known affectionately as the German Tank, Gaff is only 23 years old and has the potential to be one of Europe’s fienst fmeale fighters. For now, the most logical move would be to return to a flyweight class and help rebuild her confidence. With Invicta FC as a great proving ground, Gaff may be able to make history twice, by returning to the promotion after a release.

ESPN Body Issue features several influential female athletes

For the fifth time in its publishing history, ESPN: The Magazine is publishing its Body Issue. Featuring male and female athletes that appear nude, eight different covers are available. The female athletes which grace the variant covers include funny car driver Courtney Force, X-Games participant Tarah Gieger, soccer player Sydney Leroux and beach volleyball legend Kerri Walsh-Jennings.

Basketball legend Swin Cash, currently with the WNBA’s Chicago Sky appears in the magazine. She follows in the footsteps of other WNBA athletes such as Diana Taurasi (2010) and Candace Parker (2012). Of note, Taurasi and Cash both played collegiately with the Connecticut Huskies.

Of all the female athletes that appear in the issue, the most artistic and unique photo belongs to Kerri Walsh-Jennings. Having won three consecutive gold medals in beach volleyball in the Summer Games (2004, 2008 and 2012), Walsh-Jennings gave birth in between two photo shoots for the magazine.

One photo shows Walsh-Jennings while pregnant, and the other shows her holding her newborn baby in her arms. While she is not the first pregnant athlete to pose for the magazine, softball hero Jessica Mendoza appeared in the inaugural edition of the Body Issue, her images side-by-side reflects pure art.

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A pair of X-Games competitors, Tarah Gieger and Elena Hight is both part of the 2013 edition. Born in Puerto Rico but raised in Florida, Gieger started racing professionally as an 18 year-old. The first gold medal of her X-Games career would come in 2008 during the first-ever women’s super cross event.

Tarah Gieger photographed by Peter Hapak

Tarah Gieger photographed by Peter Hapak

Hight is a competitor in the winter version of the X-Games. Having started snowboarding at six years old, she would participate at the 2006 Torino Winter Games and the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games. Her greatest legacy in the sport is becoming the first-ever snowboarder to land a double backside alley-oop rodeo in halfpipe competition. She would brave the elements wearing only her snowboarding boots during the photo shoot for the Body Issue.

The youngest daughter of Funny Car national champion John Force, Courtney becomes the second member of the Force family to appear in the Body Issue. Her father actually appeared in the publication in 2011. At the age of 21, she won her first competition in the Top Alcohol Dragster category during an event in Seattle.

Three years later during 2012, Force would become the third woman to win a TF/FC (Funny Car) race by winning The Northwest Nationals. In 2013, she would make more history as the first woman to claim first place in the O’Reily Auto Parts Winternationals. For her photo shoot, Force is stranded in the middle of desert with only an empty gas can. She would have no trouble finding someone to help fill her tank.

As one of America’s female boxing heroes, Marlen Esparza forgets her trunks but brings her gloves for the Body Issue. A bronze medalist from the 2012 London Summer Games, she is only 24 and is poised for a great career ahead. As a role model for the Latina community, she also has endorsements with Cover Girl and was featured in TV ads for Coca-Cola and McDonalds.

Scottish golfer Carly Booth is a 20 year-old phenom that represents the future of the sport. Her photo shoot involved some driving practice wearing only her golf shoes at the scenic Chelsea Piers in New York City.

Carly Booth photographed by Williams and Hirakawa

Carly Booth photographed by Williams and Hirakawa

The 2006 Ladies Scottish Open marked her professional debut while in 2008, she would be the youngest player ever to compete with the British team in the Curtis Cup. At the tender age of 17, she qualified for the Ladies European Tour, the youngest Scot ever.

Appropriately, the 2012 Ladies Scottish Open represented her professional tournament win. During the three-day event, she wouild prevail by only one storke as she finished with a score of -4. Forty-two days later, she would emerge victorious again. In a playoff victory over Caroline Masson and Anja Monke, she won the Swiss Open with a -12 score.

Of all the female athletes that have appeared in the Body Issue, Agnieszka Radwanska suffered controversy for it. The number-four ranked women’s tennis player in the world is part of a religious cause in her native Poland. It was a campaign aimed at Catholics to not be ashamed of their beliefs.

Having also served as a WTA ambassador for Habitat for Humanity, the compassionate tennis player found herself disqualified from the cause.
Voted as the Most Popular Player in the WTA in 2011 and 2012, her legacy in tennis is one where she has made history for her homeland. In 2007, she became the first Polish player to win a WTA title and the first to be ranked in the WTA Top 10. Having also reached the finals of Wimbledon in 2012, she was the flag bearer for Poland at the 2012 London Summer Games. In 2013, she would become a receipient of Poland’s Gold Cross of Merit.

One of Ronda Rousey’s biggest rivals, Miesha Tate will challenge her for the Bantamweight title on December 28. While Rousey appeared in the 2012 edition of the Body Issue, Tate’s appearance marks the second consecutive year that a female UFC fighter is featured. As fans anxiously await the renewal of the most intense female rivalry in mixed martial arts, Tate also challenges Rousey in the looks department.

Miesha Tate photographed by Ben Watts

Miesha Tate photographed by Ben Watts

Having started their rivalry with the Strikeforce promotion, a title match between the two was the main event of a March 3, 2012 card in Columbus, Ohio. While Rousey defeated Tate for the title, it proved that women could headline a mixed martial arts card.

Born in Canada, Sydney Leroux is a competitor with the US women’s national soccer team. Her American father, Ray Chadwick was a former baseball player with the California Angels. Having also played for the Canadian Under-19 team, her associations changed in 2008.

Sydney Leroux photographed by Peter Hapak

Sydney Leroux photographed by Peter Hapak

Having played at the NCAA level with the UCLA Bruins, her career in the W-League was impressive. With the Vancouver Whitecaps, she was the youngest player ever to debut for the team at 15. A stint with the Seattle Sounders was followed by her current role with the Boston Breakers in the National Women’s Soccer League.

During the 2012 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifiers, she scored five goals in a 13-0 whitewash of Guatemala. Perhaps more impressive was the fact it was only her second cap with the US team. As the youngest member of the squad during 2012, she would help them to a gold medal at the 2012 London Summer Games.

While these remarkable women cover a wide range of sporting endeavors and unique backgrounds, all of them have broken ground in their respective sports. Although the exposure of one’s physique may not be for everyone, it is the utmost representation of sacrifice and hard work. Sending an empowering message, the barriers these women have shattered, and the odds they have overcome makes them role models and symbols of a great future in women’s sport.