Why is Arguably the Most Popular MMA Star Not in the UFC?
In the June issue of Maxim magazine there are two MMA superstars featured in different ways. There is a decent article and interview with Brock Lesnar which is worth the read (providing you can get past the pictures of Moon Bloodgood). But the more interesting part is what happens when you first open the magazine and an advertisement for Pontiac featuring Gina Carano pops out. Now despite GM’s economic situation they are still a major corporation and advertiser and featuring an MMA athlete (it is a contest to attend an MMA fight in Vegas with her) is still a coup for the sport. And anyone that has followed her career so far knows that she also famously appeared in a Pepsi Super Bowl ad and was featured on American Gladiators. Add that she has graced the pages of Maxim, where she ranks in the top 20 of the magazines hottest women, and other magazines and well you get it, she’s popular!
So what is Gina, who maybe the most marketable and popular MMA athlete, doing? As of right now she seems to be doing everything, but fighting. There are talks of her and Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos fighting under Strikeforce’s banner, but nothing is concrete as of yet. It is almost assured that she is training at Extreme Couture, aside from personal appearances, and doing other “fun things” (although no new drunk photos have emerged), but this seems a little ridiculous. Imagine if Randy Couture or Chuck Liddell at their primes were doing these types of things but not fighting? And right now it can be argued that Gina is more popular at this point than either of them was with the “mainstream” population. If you do not believe it Mr. MMA Superman then go out and try this, ask any number of people to name the three based on pictures, and almost assuredly that more people will recognize Gina in some way more than the other two. And unless you are talking about Hawaii or Canada it would be safe to say that she would be more recognizable amongst MMA fans than a lot of other fighters. So why is this popular fighter sitting on the sidelines? Because the Dark Lord of the Sith Dana White has decided that women’s MMA is not viable because there are not enough fighters out there (amongst other things). True to his following UFC fighters like Matt Hughes and Karo Parysian have spoken out against women fighting (you know where these two guys think women belong) echoing Dana’s sentiments. But is it right?
While with EliteXc, Gina basically carried the legitimate MMA fans when no one else on that roster could. Many people believed that the women’s fights far out shinned the men’s and actually seemed more technical. And there are enough women fighters out there to fill at least 3 divisions and develop fighters through Ultimate Fight Nights and other areas, even having them on WEC events. They could then use the popular fighters on PPV events. And do you mean to tell me that the UFC can only buy up or steal areas of MMA with potential rather than develop it? Or that they should not create a whole division based on two fighters like Carano or Santos? Can anyone say 155? Or the famous “catch weight” fights? Lets be honest the UFC does not want to take the risk of developing women’s MMA because they are afraid that the “frat boy” crowd will not like it. There also is the fear that it will be viewed as a sideshow and go down the path of women’s boxing.
But the truth is that woman’s boxing did not have a star like Gina Carano, one who combines legitimate athletic qualities with the look that rivals a model. The casual fan can relate to her being “hot” and the hardcore can relate that she is an accomplished athlete, both in Muay Thai and MMA (and a lot of the hardcore fans would go with the hot aspect as well). More than any other fighter Gina has the potential to bring MMA more into the mainstream, because who would you rather have going to the New York legislature to present the case for legalizing MMA in the state: Gina Carano? or Matt Serra with Pete Sell in tow? She probably would present a better argument than even Dana! No one can say that she would be a “thug” or any other name associated with MMA detractors. Women seem to love her and if she were featured they would come to be more supportive and informed, and women represent the largest consumer market in the U.S. It is not inconceivable that you could even do an Ultimate Fighter with Carano and Santos, and put it on Oxygen or Lifetime (they already had Fight Girls) and has some male MMA fighters on and BAM! whole new demographic! But none of this will happen. Strikeforce will run their MMA show with female fighters and hopefully it will be successful, for the sake of the sport. And by that time they will have Carano under contract and she will be involved, furthering the credibility and interest in it. Then the UFC can swoop in and try to dismantle Stikeforce or buy them out. But either way Dana has nothing to do with developing one of the most well known MMA fighters in the world. And I am sure that bugs him in some way.