For those of you interested in seismic shifts in the MMA landscape, look no further than the lineup for this Saturday’s Ultimate Fighter 18 finale on Fox Sports 1. Ultimate Fighter finale cards are always full of fights featuring other, lesser cast members, and this year’s no different, except for the fact that none of those lesser fighters will be men. The only male cast members who will be fighting are the two actually squaring off for the six-figure UFC contract. That’s it. Meanwhile, with the announcement yesterday that cast-member Roxanne Modaferri will also be fighting Saturday, alongside fellow runners-up Jessamyn Duke and Margaret Morgan and the two finalists, that brings the total number of female TUF fights to three. Which is not only three times as many women's fights as men's fights but also the most female fights ever featured at a UFC event.
This is one of those great situations when the right thing to do and the smart thing to do are the same thing. Capitalism can be a frustrating and terrifying phenomenon. Even the new Pope is skeptical of free markets. Just yesterday, Francis called unbridled capitalism "a new tyranny," attacked the system's "idolatry of money," and beseeched the rich to share their wealth with the rest of us. Good Francis knows that capitalism can be brutal and blind and callous and unforgiving and dehumanizing. But every once in a while there are moments when market forces demand social justice and cultural progressivism so forcefully that even the most stubborn, bigoted voices are powerless before the evolution. Giving people their natural rights simply because the forces of free-market capitalism demand it may not sound like the noblest thing in the world, but anything we can use to get toward something like equality is good enough for me. If we get immigration reform because corporations, farms, and other employers demand it so that they’re not denied an enormous source of labor, then so be it. If nobility and humanity aren’t going to lead us toward decency then let’s look to the dollar to get us there instead.
Saturday night’s card is proof once and for all that women’s MMA is not just becoming an accepted part of the sport but that it’s becoming a necessary part of the sport. All season long, the TUF women’s fights drew far bigger ratings than those of the men. Which means that any men out there in MMA world reluctant to give credence to the notion of women’s MMA on ideological grounds have been forced to acknowledge the viability of the sport on financial ones. In America, you can't fight the market. Which is why Saturday’s card is shaping up the way it is. UFC President Dana White (who was himself once adamant about never allowing women into the promotion but who, more than anyone, is open to change when viability is at stake) says it all the time: If you put on great fights and draw viewers—if people want to see you—you’ll have a job with the UFC. The promotion in some ways is capitalism at its purest—for better and for worse. The recent cuttings of successful but dull fighters like Jon Fitch and Yushin Okami show that winning isn’t enough in the UFC; you have to win in a way that makes people tune in because interested fans make for purchasing fans. And this first generation of women fighters is forcing people to tune in.
So take note, Wall Street Journal: This Saturday night won't just be a validation of the belief that women’s MMA is every bit as legitimate as men’s but also a celebration of late capitalism in all its conflicted glory—a cruel, uncaring system that every once in a while gets it right.
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