Sunday, June 20, 2010

Mixed Martial Arts and Masculinity: The Epic Heavyweight Match Up

The examples of traditional masculinity showcased through the sport of mixed martial arts are truly endless. The casual, commonplace verbal spats demonstrating homophobia abound (see here, here, and here for a few recent examples). And I won't provide specific examples at this time, but rest assured, it would be extraordinarily easy to locate quotes where MMA fighters and promoters use feminized terms (e.g., "bitch," "little girl") to demean their opponents.

Okay, before any readers who are fanatic MMA supporters stumble upon this blog entry and want to run me over the coals, I'll be among the first to say the MMA community (fighters included) is more diverse than the average outsider thinks, and I probably went overboard in
my book trying to illustrate positive dimensions to the sport. Nevertheless, MMA is a violent, male-dominated, collision sport, so like gridiron football, hockey, and basketball, dimensions of traditional masculinity are going to emerge.

To see the latest example of hegemonic masculinity promoted through MMA, we can look to the upcoming super fight between Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight Champ, Brock Lesner, and Interim Champ, Shane Carwin. Hegemonic masculinity refers to the multiple social qualities honored at a given moment in time that privilege men over all women (and girls) and other men. Since MMA is generally a competition between men, the ways that men emasculate one another is partiularly germane here.

Back in the late 1980s, heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson was labeled "The Baddest Man on the Planet." He was the smaller sized heavyweight who tore through bigger, slower oppents with an explosive fury. Outside of his minority status as an under-educated African American, Tyson exemplifed virtually every other key aspect of hegemonic masculinity; he was big, strong, violent, and wealthy. He carried multiple levels of power, which were perpetuated through his ongoing domination over women privately and other men publicly.

In today's world of combat sports, the "Baddest Men on the Planet" are said to be mixed martial arts' elite heavyweights (notably, both of whom are white). Check out the following promotional YouTube video, featuring Lesner and Carwin. Note the obvious visual and verbal references to physical strength and size, and at 4:17, pay attention to UFC President, Dana White: "At the end of the day, what really means something, is to be the baddest dude on the planet. I'm the Heavyweight Champion of the World."

UFC 116 Lesnar vs Carwin Promo (HD)

So while this is not an all encompasing example of hegemonic masculinity (for instance, education and technical prowess are not promoted), the promotional tactics used here certainly highlight what qualities are defined as masculine -- size, power, the ability to unleash physical violence -- and how much those qualities are valued in the excessively masculine domain of MMA.

Two weeks before the big July 3 competition. More to come...

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