Source: USA TODAY
Fallon Fox thought she’d be a famous pro fighter some day. But she thought it would be for the fighting part, and only after she had done enough to justify the attention.
She was wrong, and also maybe a little naive.
“I’m the first transsexual fighter in MMA,” said Fox (2-0). “Like, ever. It’s always going to be part of the narrative, but I’ll deal with it. I’ll try my best to use it to my advantage.”
So far, that’s what she’s doing. The added publicity is good news for the Florida-based Championship Fighting Alliance promotion she fights for, and for the AXS TV cable network that recently secured the rights to broadcast her Friday fight against Allanna Jones (2-1) at Miami’s Bank-United Center (9p.m. ET).
Whether it will work out as well for Fox in the end is another question.
Fox, 37, was born male, underwent gender reassignment surgery in Thailand in 2006 and began an amateur fighting career in 2011. She turned pro in 2012 and won her debut via first-round TKO, while keeping her past as a man secret from all but a few trusted friends and training partners.
But after her 39-second knockout win in the first round of the CFA’s women’s 145-pound tournament, she received a call from an MMAjunkie.com reporter that let her know her secret was about to come out. Fox told her story for the first time to Sports Illustrated in March and since has been at the center of a heated and sometimes vitriolic debate.
“It’s about what I thought it would be,” Fox said of the reaction within the MMA community, which has included support from some fellow fighters as well as condemnation from others.
“I’ve always known, ever since I was competing in jiu-jitsu and grappling tournaments, this was a possibility,” Fox told USA TODAY Sports in a phone interview. “I guess I was mentally preparing myself for it. I wasn’t sure how I’d deal with it, other than to tell myself that on a long enough timeline this would happen. I don’t know if you can ever really be prepared for a situation like this.”
CFA founder Jorge de la Noval could say the same thing. When the Cuban-born fight promoter first signed Fox to compete in his tournament, he thought he was getting just another female fighter. The Monday after her fight, he got a call from the Florida State Boxing Commission informing him there might be a problem with her license.
“I was in shock, to be honest with you,” de la Noval said. “I didn’t even know what a transgender was. But my reaction was, we’ll support her. I called her right away and told her, ‘Don’t be afraid. We’ll stand behind you.’”
When the news broke, de la Noval said, some women in the tournament wanted to withdraw rather than face an opponent who had lived most of her life as a man.
“But fast-forward three months, and now every girl out there wants to fight Fallon Fox,” de la Noval said. “Now they’ll not only be fighting a female with skills, they’ll be fighting a celebrity.”
Fox has been cleared to compete, and CFA has been picked up by AXS TV, the cable network owned in part by Mark Cuban. AXS TV Fights CEO Andrew Simon said the network will continue to broadcast CFA events with or without Fox but added, “We know there is huge interest in Fallon Fox, as well as the heavyweight main event.”
Fox knows it, too, even if she’s not completely comfortable with it yet. Her instant celebrity has been a boost in some ways, but at what cost? She had hoped to work her way up the women’s MMA ladder before coming out as the sport’s first transgender fighter, she said. Now she’s been thrust into the spotlight, and there’s no going back.
“I’d rather be known for my talent, for what I can do in the cage,” Fox said. “I’m sure that will come.”
Fowlkes also writes for MMAJunkie.com