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3 Feb, 2021 11:01

‘I don’t want to see them punching each other in the face’: ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith slammed for polemic on women's MMA

‘I don’t want to see them punching each other in the face’: ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith slammed for polemic on women's MMA

Veteran US broadcaster Stephen A. Smith has come under fire for comments made about women's MMA in which he said that he "just doesn't want to see women punching each other in the face".

Longtime ESPN host Smith has occasionally drawn the ire of the mixed martial arts fanbase since the network has become the UFC's exclusive broadcaster in the United States, with some fans critical of him for a torrent of hot-takes he lobs from behind his presenter's desk. 

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He was at the center of a media frenzy a year ago for suggesting that UFC veteran Donald Cerrone "gave up" when he was defeated by Conor McGregor 40 seconds into the first round of their January 2020 fight, and has now placed himself within the sport's crosshairs once again after recent comments about his unease at watching women compete in the male-dominated sphere of mixed martial arts. 

"I think that there’s an awful lot of women who are incredibly qualified to do the jobs they’re doing," Smith said this week on Larry Wilmore's 'Black on the Air' podcast. "Where I jump off the bandwagon is where they try to engage physically.

"For example, I don’t ever want to see a woman boxing a man. I don’t want to see that. I don’t want to see a woman in the UFC fighting a man - even though there are some women out there that will kick the dude’s butt."

Of course, neither boxing nor MMA has featured cross-gender contests in any real sense (at least when it comes to recognized promotions), despite some fans forecasting how the likes of Amanda Nunes or Ronda Rousey would have fared against their male equivalents over the years - but Smith's comments don't appear designed as a dig at the concept of women fighting men, but women fighting period.

"When I think about pugilistic sports, I don’t like seeing women involved in that at all," Smith added. "I just don’t like it. I wouldn’t promote legislating laws to prohibit them from doing so, but I don’t want to see women punching each other in the face. I don’t want to see women fighting in the Octagon and stuff like that.

"That’s just me."

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It doesn't seem that Smith's position is echoed by the combat community at large. In addition to the aforementioned Amanda Nunes, the UFC's sole 'champ champ' today, several other female fighters have ascended to the summit of the mixed martial arts landscape. Ronda Rousey became a legitimate superstar under the promotional control of the UFC, while others like Rose Namajunas and Joanna Jedrzejczyk have headlined high profile fight cards at the expense of their male peers. 

Even more, Jedrzejczyk's unsuccessful title bid against Zhang Weili was widely considered to be among the best fights of 2020. 

Smith's comments reveal more about him than they do about the sport, and reflects a by-gone age of mixed martial arts in which not only was the sport seeking equal footing with others but in which women were seeking parity with men.

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UFC boss Dana White was understandably pleased with the direction he has brought his company in the past two decades or more, to the point in which a women's fight (Amanda Nunes vs. Miesha Tate) was selected as the headliner of the bumper UFC 200 card nearly five years ago - an event which was considered among the largest in the company's history.

Mixed martial arts has long fought for footing to be considered among the bevy of international sports offered to the public. Within that particular ecosystem, women's MMA has had to bypass several preconceptions and prejudices to follow suit - and that is going to continue, regardless of whether or not Stephen A. Smith can stomach it.