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With Liz Carmouche taking center stage Saturday in the main event of UFC on ESPN+ 14, where she’ll challenge Valentina Shevchenko for the flyweight title, it’s a reminder just how far LGBT athletes have progressed in the sport of mixed martial arts in a short period of time.
When Carmouche came out publicly as lesbian earlier in her career, it was a gigantic deal, the stuff of major feature articles in mainstream sports outlets. Carmouche was called the “first openly LGBT fighter at a major level” so often, you would have thought it was part of her name on her official birth certificate.
Nowadays, it seems like almost an afterthought. Sometimes it seems like there are as many out lesbian fighters in the UFC as there are heterosexual fighters.
And as Shana Dobson, who returns to action next week at UFC 241 when she meets Sabina Mazo in a flyweight bout, sees it, that’s a good thing.
“Liz was the first one, and that was an inspiration to everyone else in her shoes who wanted to do this and wanted to follow in her path,” Dobson told MMA Junkie. “It’s kind of crazy to think, even though there’s still a long way to go, how far we’ve really come.”
Dobson (3-2 MMA, 1-1 UFC) understands this from multiple angles. She’s an out lesbian, she’s a woman, and she comes from a traditional background in the Jamaican community.
While some might see that as having the deck stacked against you as you try to make your way in the world, Dobson takes the opposite approach: As she sees it, the platform fighting in the UFC provides enables her to speak on behalf of multiple communities all at once.
“You only have so much time to make a career as a fighter,” Dobson said. “This isn’t something you can do your entire life. So the question becomes, I have this opportunity to use my platform to be a role model. Do I take advantage of it and try to make the world a little bit better of a place while I have this opportunity? Do I conduct myself in a way that shows the world I’m proud to be Jamaican and to be a woman and to be gay and show people you can represent all your communities while you make something of yourself.”
Of course, while matters of politics, culture, and intersectionality spill over into the fight business on daily, at the end of the day, you have to compete at a high level on a regular basis in order to maintain the platform being a major-league fighter provides.
And Dobson feels she’s ready to show the world the next stage in her evolution. Dobson first garnered public attention for her spot on “The Ultimate Fighter 25,” then followed up with a sizzling first-round TKO of Ariel Beck at the TUF 25 Finale in Dec. 2017. But she’s been out of action for over a year, which included pulling out of a scheduled fight in China with Yu Wanan due to injury.
The Washington, D.C.-based fighter knows that when she fight Mazo (6-1 MMA, 0-1 UFC), who will be fighting in her adopted Orange County home, in what’s scheduled as the opening match at Honda Center, Mazo is the one who is going to command all the attention.
Mazo is the one who got into the UFC through knockout video clips which went viral as she made her way through the ranks, while Dobson’s been out of the limelight for a minute now.
So if fans forgot about Dobson a litlte bit, that’s okay, because the way she sees it, it’s time to unleash her 2.0 version and show the world what she’ll do in the next stage of her career.
“When this fight was announced it was portrayed like ‘this is the next Sabina Mazo fight,’ and my name was barely mentioned, and that’s alright,” Dobson said with a chuckle. “I want people to be talking about me after the fight. I want people to know that Shana Dobson is improving every day and becoming a complete fighter. I’m going to go in there and get it done.”
And that’s something anyone can understand, regardless of labels.
News | MMA Junkie