Updated 3/6/2013 @ 6:39 PM PST: Correction to Fallon’s reported fighting record.
Media outlets across the US have been circulating a story that appears to have originated from Sports Illustrated Online yesterday evening.
Apparently, Fallon Fox (recently registered as a Female MMA professional fighter in Florida and California) underwent gender reassignment surgery in 2006. As part of the gender reassignment process it is usual for individuals to undergo hormone therapy for an indeterminate amount of time to ensure the body adapts and conforms to the desired role (male or in this case female).
While some of the controversy surrounding a transgender in professional MMA may be obvious, what some may not be aware of is the implications that gender reassignment and the application of hormone therapy has on athletic performance. With a 2-0 professional record, each bout ending in a first round knockout, and a 3-0 amateur record, each bout ending in a submission, the athletic commissions in Florida and California have begun to reconsider the validity of Fox’s application as a fighter.
Testosterone and Estrogen are present in both males and females. However, the balance of Estrogen and Testosterone plays a significant role in gender characteristic development in the body. Testosterone, commonly known to give men their external male attributes (body and facial hair, larger muscle mass and vocal characteristics to name a few), also directly affects athletic performance. A higher proportion of Testosterone to Estrogen typically results in greater athletic performance. Conversely, Estrogen gives women their usual feminine appearance (reduced body and facial hair, breast mass, weight distribution and other common attributes ). The body maintains this balance of Testosterone and Estrogen in both men and women based ultimately on genetic coding and other health factors.
Biochemistry and other interesting medical facets aside, the real question that remains with a transgender individual is “where do they belong”. This has been challenging enough from a social standpoint but when you also factor athletic performance the matter of hormone balance and it’s affect on athletic performance becomes increasingly more complex as typical testosterone and estrogen figures for individuals who’ve undergone gender reassignment may be skewed somewhat.
The science of the matter indicates that the body should adapt to essentially physically mimic the appearance and function (to a certain degree) of the desired gender post surgery with assistance of hormone supplementation. However, as the metric for gauging athletic performance in relation to peers of the same natural sex hasn’t been universally agreed upon, so it’s difficult to qualify a transgendered individual for fair competition in either male or female bouts.
In Fox’s case, as mentioned above, she has achieved a 2-0 professional record, each bout ending in a first round knockout, and a 3-0 amateur record, each bout ending in a submission. Given the complex circumstances, and the high performance of Fox as a combat athlete, the matter of hormone replacement therapy (even if medically necessary for gender replacement therapy) brings into question the fairness of the individuals potential vs that of other fighters in the same class who are not undergoing any hormone therapy at all.
It may be some time before we get clear direction on what is and is not appropriate or fair in such circumstances. However, at SciFighting we’d like to know what the fans think.
Transgender in MMA, Is it fair? Should it be allowed, and why?
Update: Thanks to Alyssa Vasquez (a reader and loyal fan of SciFighting) for the correction on Fallon’s fighting record!