The well-publicized progression of WMMA is one nobody can deny. Just look at the 2020 Fight of the Year between Zhang Weili and Joanna Jerdzejczyk for proof. Clearly, women are a massive part of MMA, but have all combat sports progressed as fast?
Multiple-time Muay Thai champion Regan Gowing is gearing up for her flyweight bout against Yasmeen Salhani at Lion Fight 66. A veteran of countless Thai bouts, she’s becoming a staple among the most elite Thai organizations. Although she has had no trouble making a respectable name for herself in the sport she loves the most, she doesn’t believe the art of eight limbs is in the same realm as the UFC in terms of female representation.
“I think we’re making really good strides, but to be there, I think physical features and attractiveness would have to be off the table and it be just skills that we’re looking at,” Gowing explained.
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The slow growth of the sport in general may be playing a factor in the slow representation of women. While it isn’t necessarily a “good” place to be in, Gowing is able to appreciate the noticeable efforts promotions put forth to include women, but it’s hard not to see what makes a fighter “marketable.”
“I know a lot of organizations like Lion Fight are committed to having at least one female fight on the card but I think we’re still in a time where unfortunately where if you’re an attractive female you’re going to be marketed over a less attractive female who may have more skill than you,” Gowing said.
Needless to say, the mainstream representation of women fighters in Muay Thai is a topic of concern for Gowing, but as far as the diehard fans goes, she is very happy with the way they judge fighters, male or female.
“I don’t think I’m judged, or at least I hope I’m not purely judged on how I look,” Gowing said. “Fans who are familiar with Muay Thai can see and judge people’s skill right off the bat.”
𝘋𝘪𝘥 𝘺𝘰𝘶 𝘬𝘯𝘰𝘸?...— Lion Fight (@LionFight) May 7, 2021
The Muay Thai headband “𝘔𝘰𝘯𝘨𝘬𝘩𝘰𝘯” is a traditional headgear worn by the athletes as part of their pre-fight attire and when they perform the Wai Kru Ram Muay (dance) ceremony that precedes their fights.
One of the most reassuring aspects of the gender dynamic in Muay Thai is that while it’s still hard to get a far-reaching audience to see a fighter as something other than a “female fighter,” in the gym it’s a completely different ballgame.
Whether it’s in practices or teaching students of her own, Gowing has always found herself at home in the gym.
“In my group of athletes I am seen as a fighter,” Gowing said. “I’m not a ‘female fighter.’ I teach a lot of students and I’d like to think that they view me as a fighter first and not as a gendered fighter.”
What’s the solution? It’s hard to say. More eyes on the sport in general is always a factor. More money into promoting is another “easy” fix, but Gowing explains that there’s another aspect to it that may help Muay Thai catch up with MMA in terms of female representation.
“I think we’ll be there when we can see more representation of different weight classes and a whole array of different weight classes with all these skilled fighters filling up the weight classes,” Gowing said.
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Difficulties like these aren’t meant to be figured out in a phone call. Outside of a collaborative effort from everybody, issues like these are impossible to resolve. It’s tough to figure out when exactly we will be at a place where multiple weight classes flourish routinely in Muay Thai, but as far as Regan Gowing goes, as long as there is a spot on a card, she’s right at home.
Things aren’t perfect but just a few short years ago they were far from perfect in the UFC.
“I think a lot of organizations only have a few weight classes for females, like one or two,” Gowing said. “More are emerging which is great, but I think that’s when I’ll feel like we’re there. Listen, we’ve made really big strides. I know the UFC has in the last few years and it’s really awesome to see so many really skilled female athletes on their roster now.”
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