Transgender athletes in combat sports/martial arts

The subject of transgender competitors has been an intriguing issue throughout the years. Recently it has been getting more attention as more transgender athletes have begun competing. Still, this subject raises discussions and controversy. The most frequently raised issues are how to regulate transgendered athletes in sports and is it fair for them to compete against cisgender people. Or more specifically is competition between transgender vs. cis woman fair; less is said about men here. The best way to talk about it is through examples.

Transgender athletes in combat sports/martial arts

Fallon Fox MMA Fighter

Fallon Fox is an American retired MMA fighter and first openly transgender athlete in MMA history. In her official MMA record, she got 6 matches, 5 wins (3 by knockout, 2 by submission) and one loss (by knockout). Neither the number of matches nor the win/loss ratio is unusual. Her 2 first professional fights went unnoticed. Also, at that time she didn’t speak about being transsexual.

“Past 6 years, people have seen me as a woman, not a transsexual. I’m just a woman to them. I don’t want that to go away. It’s unfortunate that it has to.”

Only after these 2 fights the fact that she was born as a man came to light because of the one reporter’s inquisitiveness. In a phone interview with Outsports, she said: “For years I’ve known at some point it’s very likely the shoe would drop. Maybe someone would guess that I’m trans, would know me from my life before I transitioned. I’ve been waiting for that phone call to happen. And Saturday night, it happened.”

Shortly after that, her person began to arouse controversy. Fallon Fox during her later career met with an unfavorable attitude of some people in the MMA world. For example, UFC commentator and BJJ black belt Joe Rogan did not speak most positively about her. During one episode of The Joe Rogan Experience podcast, co-host Brian Redban asked Rogan what he thought about “that tranny” [Fox], which started an eight-minute rant from Rogan that delved into the following quotes:

Less harsh:

“First of all, she’s not really a she. She’s a transgender, post-op person. The operation doesn’t shave down your bone density. It doesn’t change. Look at a man’s hands and look at a woman’s hands and they’re built differently. They’re just thicker, they’re stronger, your wrists are thicker, your elbows are thicker, your joints are thicker.”


“She wants to fight women in MMA. I say no f***ing way. You have bigger hands, bigger shoulder joints. You’re a f***ing man. That’s a man, OK? You can’t have… that’s… I don’t care if you don’t have a dick any more…”

Even more harsher:

“If you want to be a woman in the bedroom and you know you want to play house and all of that other s*** and you feel like you have, your body is really a woman’s body trapped inside a man’s frame and so you got an operation, that’s all good in the hood. But you can’t fight chicks. Get the f*** out of here. You’re out of your mind. You need to fight men, you know? Period. You need to fight men your size because you’re a man. You’re a man without a dick.”


Other more than Joe Rogan harsh words came from Matthew Steven Mitrione, an American mixed martial artist, and former American football player, who fights in Bellator MMA. In an appearance on The MMA Hour, he stated some transphobic comments. Matt Mitrione said that Fox was “still a man”, and called her an “embarrassment” and a “lying, sick, sociopathic, disgusting freak”.

More friendly words flow from a medical point of view. Specifically from Eric Vilain, who is the director of the Institute For Society And Genetics at UCLA, and worked with the Association of Boxing Commissions when they wrote their policy on transgender athletes. He stated in Time magazine that “Male to female transsexuals have significantly less muscle strength and bone density, and higher fat mass, than males”.

He also said that to be licensed, transgender women competitors must undergo total “surgical anatomical changes…, including external genitalia and gonadectomy and subsequently a minimum of two years of hormone replacement therapy, administered by a board-certified specialist. In general concurrence with peer-reviewed scientific literature, he states this to be “the current understanding of the minimum amount of time necessary to obviate male hormone gender-related advantages in sports competition”.

Despite that, another unfairness about Fallon Fox fighting cis woman was brought after her fight with Tamikka Brents. In witch, Fallon’s opponent suffered an orbital bone fracture, and seven staples to the head in the 1st round. After her loss, Brents stated: “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.” She added, “I’ve never felt so overpowered ever in my life.”

Much less attention is paid to the fight in which Ashlee Evans-Smith defeated Fox. This may, therefore, indicate sensationalism rather than real interest in the case of transgender athletes. This thesis is confirmed by the next case.

Patricio Manuel –  Boxing

Patricio Manuel is an American professional boxer. In 2018 he made history, becoming the first transgender boxer in the United States to have a professional fight. In December 2018, fighting on a Golden Boy Promotions card in Indio, California, Manuel defeated Mexican super-featherweight Hugo Aguilar. He won the 12-minute bout in a unanimous decision with the three judges scoring 39-37 for Manuel.

The fact that he was born as a woman and is a five-time USA female national amateur boxing champion does not arouse any controversy. Unlike Fallon Fox, no unpleasant words are directed towards him. Even on the contrary, in September 2019, Manuel became the new face of Everlast boxing equipment.


Manuel got only one professional fight after transition and he won it. Fallon got 5, including one loss. We can, therefore, say that he is 100% effective and she is only 80. Still, she sparked outrage and him not. It’s the same in other sports. Transgender woman athletes are still controversial even despite the fact they are not unbeatable which was the main argument why it is unfair for them to compete with a cis woman.

Eric Vilain, the director of the Institute For Society And Genetics at UCLA, who was mentioned before summed it all up best when asked if Fox could, nonetheless, be stronger than her competitors. He said that it was possible, but noted that “sports is made up of competitors who, by definition, have advantages for all kinds of genetics reasons”.