Punch Like a Girl. Who wears the fight shorts in your octagon?

The U.S. population is 51% female. And women are big fans of Mixed Martial Arts fighting events and television programs. Question for you: What are you doing to attract this mass population to your gym, and turn them from spectators into participants.

MMA Business spoke with some of the most successful gyms and training facilities in the business to learn their trade secrets of how to get women into their gyms and engaged in MMA-style training.
The popularity of Mixed Martial Arts among the fairer sex has significantly increased over the last few years. Not only has there been marked growth of female spectators and fans at MMA events, but ladies are showing increased interest in the fitness training aspects of Mixed Martial Arts, and in classes like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai, kick boxing and more. In this article, you will find tips on how to successfully draw new business by offering special options for women, and ultimately increasing your bottom line with a boost in memberships and sales.
The Secret, and Your Big Opportunity
“I have seen major growth with women in MMA,” said Linda Shields, founder of Cage Fighting Xtreme, or Cage FX. “Not all women are suited for fighting, but many are interested in learning fighting techniques, and the fitness aspect is a big draw.” Shields is a martial arts and fitness industry expert, leading her Massachusetts-based promotion company as one of New England’s MMA leaders. In January 2010, Action Martial Arts magazine named Shields the “Woman of the Year.”
Rose Gracie agrees that most women are not interested in fighting. And she goes a step further and says “a very small percentage of women will even want to enter a ‘fight’ gym; it’s too intimidating.” She says that the obvious choices are yoga classes and cardio kickboxing; proven successful ways to draw women into your gym.
Gracie, granddaughter of Helio Gracie, wife of Javier Vasquez, and MMA expert who needs to take a backseat to no man, advises gym owners that to cater to women to think more like women. And she admits to being surprised that so few gym owners really want to do that.
“The best thing you can do,” says Gracie, “the real Number 1 secret is to cater to beginners. You can do, of course, whatever you want. But if you want to grow, if you want to make money, if you want to attract women to your gym, the answer is to cater to women. This is your money-making opportunity.”
Tami Love Carswell, a trained MMA fighter and instructor of women’s combat and self-defense, tells us the key to attracting women to training facilities is to bring women into the gym to train in MMA as a way to transform their fitness lifestyle. “Having some of the ladies classes at the same time as the male classes,” said Car- swell, “has the women – who normally feel a little intimidated by a dominating masculine presence in the gym – get used to the idea of training with male fighters, and vice versa.” She adds, “Having introductory seminars at least one day a week with all females gives women a chance to really focus more on themselves and each other in a more relaxed atmosphere.”
A lot of MMA gyms have limited appeal – to men and women – because they only cater to the hardcore MMA fighter. This will tend to scare away women wanting to train. According to Elisabeth Nuesser, CEO of Fightchix, “Offering classes like a cardio kickboxing, women’s self defense, or a beginner class that is just for women is a good way to attract females to the gym. Just get women in the door and once they see what the workouts are like and how much fun they are, they will get hooked. Let them get their feet wet and move up when they are comfortable. LA Boxing has done a good job by projecting a clean, safe and friendly facility and staff with women instructors, too!”

Focus on the 85 Percent, not the 15
One of the biggest mistakes that MMA gyms or training centers make is that they focus on the minority 15 percent of females who want hard-core MMA fight training. They should be focusing on the 85 percent who want to stay fit using MMA methods.
“There has been incredible popularity at UFC Gym with females,” said Adam Sedlack, Senior Vice President, of UFC Gym. “The male to female ratio is near 50/50.” The UFC Gym in Concord, Calif., offers 800 classes a month including Muay Thai, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, in which one of the instructors happens to be female. “Most women customers are enticed into the gym through mainstream means,” said Sedlack, “and then they become attracted to the MMA part of the business.”
UFC Gym offers a myriad of choices for women including the “Zumba” dance fitness program, plus cycling classes and beginning MMA techniques as well as women’s self-defense classes. UFC Gym also offers a three-day kids MMA system that focuses on stand up and ground work. But what this class really does is keep children busy while moms can take other classes. Combining these elements with personal training and introductory classes has allowed the UFC Gym to lead the way in garnering female members. The truth is that only a small percentage of women interested in MMA-style training ever want to step into the cage and fight. They are looking for a fun and exciting workout that is effective and tests their abilities.
Gym owners should consider hosting an open house for women or some kind of ladies-only event. An open house is an invitation for potential female members to see your facility and meet your staff in a no-pressure setting. It’s also a chance for your current customers to bring their friends and to mingle with potential new members. Gyms can even host a ‘Women’s Expo’ where current and potential members can meet with instructors of Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, or work on striking and ground work if they are so inclined. Hosting a ladies night with a ‘round robin’ format or meet with trainers or nutritionists during 10-minute sessions would give potential female gym members a chance to learn about each method and get a feel for the programs the gym offers.
Get your team fired up about offering female-focused classes. Gym members are looking for activities and opportunities to involve their girlfriends, wives, sisters and mothers. Make the most out of the larger percentage of the population and entice female members to your gym. Not only is it good for your bottom line, but also it promotes the Mixed Martial Arts industry.

Photo By Dale Shirley
Women Fighters – An Inspiration
Years ago, women got started fighting through different means than they do today. Ladies started by taking “Self-Defense” classes at the local community center, and they liked the combat. Some ladies got involved in MMA by accident; maybe they got a job in the business or grew to become an enthusiast just by their proximity to the sport. Some even married into the MMA business. No matter how ladies get into the industry of MMA fighting, what matters is that we should be proud and inspired by the women who fight in the MMA industry. Whether they are MMA trainers, instructors or that special breed of woman who actually gets a charge out of stepping into the ring and fighting an opponent, we all should acknowledge and give these ladies the attention and respect they deserve.
The female of the species is supposed to be the fairer sex, be polite, share and play nice, right? Wrong. One female fighter said, “Once you get punched in the face, the lady- like attitude hits the floor and the adrenaline takes over! Either you have an overwhelming desire to fight back after getting hit in the face, or cower in the other direction.”
That is what separates the ‘fighting’ females from the rest. Female fighters tell us that they get a rush and a sense of empowerment once they step into the ring. Although these fighting ladies are the minority of the women who practice in the MMA style, there is something to be said about physically making contact with another person. That is one aspect of MMA fighting that separates it from other workout or sparring methods… the actual physical contact. Whether it is with another human being, or a punching bag, the “contact” that makes the difference.
Female MMA fighters have a rare type of confidence and drive. They know after many months of training, endurance drills and fighting that they can not only land a punch, they can take a punch. Like a girl.