Alana McLaughlin, 38, the second openly transgender MMA fighter in the United States has won her debut match, sparking another debate whether trans women should be allowed to compete in sports.
Alana won her first professional fight in the Combate Global prelims on Friday battling Celine Provost, ending the match via submission.
The 38-year-old applied a rear-naked choke into the second round, forcing her opponent to tap out.
Alana, from South Carolina, began her transition in 2010 after spending six years in the US Army special forces.
The trans woman’s win ignited a huge backlash from people who said it was totally unfair for Alana to compete against a cis-gendered athlete in mixed martial arts.
“I’m getting a lot of variations of the same nasty messages calling me a cheater like I didn’t just get beat on for a round and a half,” Alana responded on Twitter. “Y’all need to show Céline Provost some respect and take your concern trolling elsewhere.”
“Transphobes are just making my block hand stronger,” she added.
Alana is the second openly transgender athlete to fight in MMA professionally in the country, following Fallon Fox who made history in 2012 with her debut and later on retired in 2014.
“I want to pick up the mantle that Fallon put down,” Alana told Outsports. “Right now, I’m following in Fallon’s footsteps. I’m just another step along the way and it’s my great hope that there are more to follow behind me.”
According to ESPN, Fallon was watching Friday’s match ringside.
Alana had been training for more than a year in preparation for the bout, ESPN reports.
It was scheduled originally for August, however, the fight was postponed after Provost tested positive for the coronavirus.
Alana, whose birth name was Ryan, cleared a hormone panel issued by the Florida State Boxing Commission but noted that it was a ‘nightmare’ finding an opponent for the fight.
“I have nothing but respect for [Provost],” Alana told ESPN.
Despite Alana’s win, many people on social media said that the bout was an example of an unfair push to include trans women in sports.
“Alana McLaughlin transitioned 5 years ago, which means that “she” lived 33 years of her life as a man,” combat sports podcaster Angel David Castro wrote. “Tonight McLaughlin fought and beat a biological woman… what a shock.”
“I think people can identify with whatever they like but I don’t think this has a place in combat sports,” MMA commentator @SafeBetMMA tweeted. “Y’all think this is ok and empowering to transgenders?”
“I respect trans rights; however, how is this fair, seriously?” another MMA commentator tweeted.
“I respect trans rights all day but this is an unfair advantage,” another commenter added.
“Alternative headline: “Man cheats,” Jessica O’Donnell tweeted, a writer for the Blaze in the replies to a New York Post article about the win.
Meanwhile, others in feminist circles regarded the fight as an example of abuse.
“Male violence against women as a public sport? #NoThankYou,” Genevieve Gluck posted, a contributor to the Canadian feminist website Feminist Current.
“Wow. I did not foresee the day we applauded men beating women,” one Twitter user added. “What a stunningly brave new world.”
“This is disgusting and dangerous,” another person added.
Others, however, congratulated Alana on her victory.
“You did AMAZING,” Jessica Durling tweeted. “They’re just mad sports aren’t just for cis people.”
“I support you so much and hope you don’t take the horrible bigoted comments to heart,” another one posted.
“You’re wonderful,” wrote another Twitter user.
“You both did amazing out there!” another person reacted.
“You’re amazing, don’t let the hate get you down,” another one replied.
“Athletes like you make history,” a Twitter user said. “We’ll look back at the way people are reacting to you one day the same way we look back at those who wanted to ban integrated sports.”
Amid the backlash, Alana encouraged her fans that it was not necessary to defend her.
“Don’t feel obligated to defend me against transphobes online,” Alana tweeted. “We all know they’re not arguing in good faith and your energy is better spent elsewhere.”
Alana anticipated the criticisms. She even told Outsports in the leadup to the bout that her participation was another step in having more trans people participate and be visible in sports.
“If we want to see more trans athletes, if we want to see more opportunities for trans kids, we’re going to have to work out way into those spaces and make it happen,” Alana said. “It’s time for trans folks to be in sports and be more normalized.”