Should transgender athletes be sanctioned to compete in MMA?
This is a divisive question that has stirred up fiery emotions in many of the sport’s biggest names. At the height of the debate’s public attention, beloved UFC commentator Joe Rogan faced significant backlash for comments made on his podcast, and then UFC-fighter Matt Mitrione was suspended by the promotion for his controversial take.
The name behind it all? Fallon Fox. An MMA fighter with a 5-1 record, who never fought under the UFC banner. So how did it all happen?
Here’s everything you need to know about Fallon Fox. From her controversial admission to her bone-breaking fight finish, and the public backlash which followed. In the words of Mike Goldberg, here we go…
Who is Fallon Fox?
A quick glance at Fallon Fox’s fight stats (a professional record of 5 wins and 1 loss) doesn’t particularly stand out from any other regional-level MMA fighter.
In fact, Fox’s career started like many other prospects’ have… with 2 wins. Better still, 2 first-round TKOs. A great start, but quick finishes are normal in the early stages of many professional fight careers, and it was hardly newsworthy.
But there’s one difference here… Fallon Fox is MMA’s first openly transgender athlete. Fox was born a man, yet competed professionally against female athletes. And it caused quite the stir.
Breaking The News
In March 2013, Fallon came out as transgender to sportswriter Cyd Zeigler. Fox later said she had felt forced to make her transition public. She was told the news would otherwise be leaked by a third-party who had somehow learned of her history.
During the interview, Fox stated that she had taken over 10 years of hormone-therapy and had spent the last 6 years as ‘legally, physically and mentally female’ after her gender reassignment therapy. In fact, Fallon feels that she’s actually at a disadvantage in MMA competition, due to her hormonal therapies causing lower testosterone than female competitors.
Fallon Fox’s news shook up the MMA world. I’ve highlighted a few takes below from some of MMA’s most famous names…
Joe Rogan – UFC’s most famous color commentator – publicly opposed the fact that Fox was licensed to compete against females. Speaking on his podcast, Rogan said the following:
‘She’s a transgender, post-op person. The operation doesn’t shave down your bone density. It doesn’t change.
You look at a man’s hands and you look at a woman’s hands and they’re built different. They’re just thicker, they’re stronger, your wrists are thicker, your elbows are thicker, your joints are thicker.
Just the mechanical function of punching, a man can do it much harder than a woman can, period.’-Joe Rogan on Fallon Fox
And Rogan wasn’t the only one to speak out publicly.
In 2013, while speaking on Ariel Helwani’s ‘The MMA Hour’, heavyweight Matt Mitrione (who was fighting for the UFC at the time) said Fox was a ‘lying, sick, sociopathic, disgusting freak’.
Mitrione was immediately suspended by the UFC and received a fine for an undisclosed amount.
The UFC is famous for slapping a suspension or fine on a fighter for public image, but then not really following through with any serious consequences for the athlete’s career. The infamous Conor McGregor / Khabib Nurmagomedov bus incident was a great example of this.
Just weeks after Mitrione’s fine, he had a new fight announced against Brendan Schaub. So it doesn’t seem like the UFC was actually all that upset with his comments.
MMA’s most famous female fighter, Ronda Rousey, also had her say…
‘I feel like if you go through puberty as a ‘man’ it’s not something you can reverse. … There’s no undo button on that’.-Ronda Rousey on Fallon Fox
But how about an actual opponent of Fox, how did they feel about fighting against a transgender athlete?
Fallon Fox’s Opponents
Fox’s last professional fight was in September 2014, against Tamikka Brents. Fox won via TKO in the first round. For her efforts, Brents was left concussed, with an orbital bone fracture and required seven staples in her head.
Brents later took to social media to comment on the experience:
I’ve fought a lot of women and have never felt the strength that I felt in a fight as I did that night. I can’t answer whether it’s because she was born a man or not because I’m not a doctor.
I’ve never felt so overpowered ever in my life and I am an abnormally strong female in my own right.
Her grip was different, I could usually move around in the clinch against other females but couldn’t move at all in Fox’s clinch.-MMA fighter Tamikka Brents, on her match agains transgender athlete Fallon Fox
Fallon Fox’s First Televised Fight
If this saga has piqued your interest, you’ll be pleased to know that Fallon Fox’s televised fight debut has now been released on YouTube. I won’t spoil the result, so you can go ahead and take a look…
Do Transgender Athletes Have an Unfair Advantage?
The main argument is that male-to-female transgender athletes retain physiological advantages that make equal competition impossible when fighting against females.
- an increased bone density
- an increased ability to generate power
- larger, stronger limbs
Of course, it’s impossible to create true equality in athletic competition. Fighters routinely face larger, stronger opponents, with a longer reach, or a power advantage. And so regardless of operative or hormonal changes, this is a complex issue.
But do these advantages hold up? Check out the below video and decide for yourself…
Are There Any Female-to-Male Transgender Fighters?
Patricio Manuel was a five-time USA female national amateur boxing champion. He fought his last fight as a woman in 2012 against Tiara Brown, and then in 2016 after he transitioned, competed in his first amateur men’s fight against Adan Ochoa in 2016.
He won by unanimous decision. Manuel then went on to make his professional debut in December 2018, which he also won.
However, the case of Manuel received less media attention and almost none of the controversy associated with Fallon Fox. In fact, Manuel has recently become the face of famous sports brand, Everlast.
Where is Fallon Fox Now?
For all the controversy, there hasn’t been an openly transgender athlete to compete in high-level MMA competition. Fox has now retired (she’s 44) – and she was never close to competing at the UFC level.
Fallon currently lives in Chicago and is a trans activist. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram. I looked through her recent posts and wasn’t able to find anything indicating she’s still training much martial arts.
ESPN did a documentary that covered Fallon Fox called Game Face, which you can watch on ESPN+.
The Future of Transgender Fighters in MMA
The debate itself transcends the world of MMA, as transgender athletics are now a hot topic throughout the world of sport. Many believe allowing transgender athletes to compete in MMA is a step too far.
When the end-goal of a match is to physically harm your opponent, the potential for negative consequences is just too high to allow for extreme imbalances between competitors. There are plenty of successful women in MMA as well as women in boxing, but fights across genders have historically been a major taboo.
So can we expect to see more transgender athletes compete in MMA? Maybe even at the elite level? It’s hard to say. One thing’s for sure: if we do, it won’t be without controversy.