In what might reasonably be described as the most testosterone drenched of sports, it was never going to be easy for the first MMA competitor who came out as transgender. On March 4, two days after winning her second pro fight with a one-round KO of featherweight Ericka Newsome in Coral Gables, Fla., Fallon Fox did just that. The revelation was followed promptly by questions about whether she would be allowed to continue competing against women.
Fox, a 37-year-old Navy veteran, was born male but—as she told SI.com's Loretta Hunt, who broke the story—she began to feel as if she were inhabiting a body of the wrong sex as early as age five. (For transgender males and females the physiological characteristics that distinguish them do not conform to how they feel about themselves.) Ten years ago Fox informed her parents that she identified as a woman. Fox says they referred her to a therapist who tried to persuade Fox that she was a gay man, rather than a transgender woman. The therapy was a waste, Fox says, and she began medical treatment to transition to female. She says she underwent testosterone-suppression therapy to bring her hormone levels in line with those of an adult woman—and to negate male-typical advantages such as greater muscle mass and red blood cell levels—and seven years ago she had gender-reassignment surgery.
Having transitioned hormonally and surgically years ago, Fox would be eligible to compete as a female under NCAA and Olympic rules. (In 2010, Kye Allums, a guard on the George Washington women's basketball team who identifies as a male, became the first Division I athlete to come out as transgender.) Guidelines issued last year by the Association of Boxing Commissions require proof of at least two years of hormone therapy before a trans woman can compete against women.
Fox began training as an MMA fighter in 2008. As soon as she came out, her next fight, scheduled for April 20, was postponed. Officials for the Florida State Boxing Commission (which oversees MMA in the state), who were unaware that Fox was born male, are reviewing her license, presumably to verify that she transitioned appropriately and has undergone sufficient testosterone suppression.
Fox's management and the promoter of her most recent bout are in her corner. "As long as she's licensed, she's always welcome in our promotion," Jorge De La Noval, founder and CEO of Championship Fighting Alliance, told SI.com. Nonetheless, the expected vitriol—like the suggestion that Fox should compete in a special "tranny division"—spilled forth on message boards.
The brutal nature of MMA could make Fox's case a lodestar for sports considering the eligibility of transgender athletes. "People keep bringing up the fact that [trans women] were born in a male body and how that gives them a distinct advantage," says Cyd Zeigler, cofounder of Outsports.com. "In no sport would that advantage show up more clearly than in MMA. If Fallon is allowed to fight, I think that will open the doors to every other sport."
Even if Fox retains her license, though, "will other women accept the fights?" Zeigler asks. "I think there's a big story there."