For as long as there has been UFC, there have been Octagon girls – incredibly beautiful women that not only act as round signifiers, but also ambassadors for the brand worldwide.
However, in the light of the shift in societal values over the past few years and the calls for them to be banned from events as seen with UFC 243 in Melbourne last year, the girls face an uncertain future.
The lack of crowds, the reduction in cash flow and the restrictions on travel likely in the wake of the global pandemic will only underline this uncertainty. That’s despite Octagon girls like Brittany Palmer and Richelle Monae posting pulse-racing photos to improve the spirits of fight fans while in lockdown.
One example of how the virus has already hit ring girls came as they were forced to don black protective masks at an MMA event in Belarus last month. While the masks were also worn by announcers, refs, timekeepers and medics, the photos from the live event made for a slightly uncomfortable statement in the light of a shift in the equality of women globally.
The UFC is an enormous organization however, and its Octagon girls have become superstars in their own right. The likes of Arianny Celeste, Brittany Palmer, Jhenny Andrade and Vanessa Hanson have made admirable careers from their appearances in the Octagon and would no doubt argue with detractors about the pros and cons of any occupation that brings in around a million dollars in earnings per year.
UFC supremo Dana White meanwhile is a known fan of his Octagon models (perhaps on occasion a little too much of a fan) and won’t let them go without a fight.
“Our Octagon girls, they’re as much a part of the UFC brand as anyone, they’re ambassadors for our sport,” he said last year in response to politicians calling for a ban.
“So, for someone who has absolutely no education whatsoever about who these girls are – about what they do, what they mean to the UFC – to start going off, it’s ridiculous.
“So, you can look at any sport you like, nobody treats women better than we do.”
If logistically ring girls are unable to travel or appear at any events in the future, then White is likely to be looking at ways they can continue to remain part of the UFC experience.
That could well be achieved virtually, with lucrative tech contracts handed out to companies who are able find a way to allow fight fans to see the girls on their screens without them actually being physically present at the events. Live music concerts featuring holograms are now so advanced they can sell out tours, plus pre-recorded appearances of the girls announcing each round of the fight could very easily be incorporated into pay-per-view events.
Boxing has come under increased pressure over the past couple of years to ban ring girls, most notably in the Anthony Joshua v Andy Ruiz Jr rematch in Saudi Arabia last December. While the country is notoriously conservative, the fact the ring girls were removed at all was seen as a step forward for the sport in many corners.
Formula One racing already put a stop to ‘Grid Girls’ appearing at races back in 2018 – and that followed similar measures taken by Darts associations to ban ‘walk on’ girls and pro Cycling banning podium girls.
The UFC’s commitment to its Octagon version could be tested to the full by the Covid-19 pandemic.