The Good Fight When MMA fighter Fallon Fox got a call from a reporter, she knew it was time to come out with a secret that threatened not only her career, but her entire life.
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The Good Fight

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The Good Fight

The Good Fight

The Good Fight

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

When MMA fighter Fallon Fox got a call from a reporter, she knew it was time to come out with a secret that threatened not only her career, but her entire life.


Now then, one thing you can understand of the SNAP is that people are different - one from the other, and your rite of passage may be very different than mine. In fact, for mixed martial arts fighter Fallon Fox, her rite of passage happened in a cage - SNAP JUDGMENT.


FALLON FOX: I fight Ericka Newsome.


UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATOR #1: Fox delivering a knee.


UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATOR #1: And that's it. Fallon Fox, holy cow.

FOX: I knock here out, 39 seconds.


UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATOR #2: Wow, what a beautiful knee, beautiful Thai clinch right to the chin.

FOX: Brutal - the crowd was shocked (laughter). After it happened, like, silence and then applause.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Your winner by knockout, Fallon Queen of Swords Fox.

ANA ADLERSTEIN, BYLINE: Fallon Fox is in MMA. She's a mixed martial arts fighter. She's 5-foot-6, weighs 144 pounds, and at the age of 37, she just got her first professional knockout.

FOX: After this, we leave the arena. My phone rings. I pick it up. And the guy the other end, and he's like hello, is this Fallon Fox? I'm like, yes, yes, yes. And he's like, I'm a reporter. I'm like great; that was sweet. You saw that? I'll give you an interview, for sure. He's like after I tell you what I need to tell you, you're probably going to want to do this interview, and you're more than likely not going to be wanting to eat anything when you do.

ADLERSTEIN: The reporter tells Fallon that he's heard some pretty serious rumors about her, and he wants to get her response.

FOX: And that's when I hung up on him. And that's when I knew that it was time for me to come out with my story. So I called my friend, Mary (ph). I told her the situation, and I told her that it's likely that I'm going to have to take some genetic test or something like that. I was like, but I don't want to do that, and she was like, why? And I was like, I don't believe that I can pass a genetic test. She was just in shock. Like, she was a really good friend of mine. We'd been training forever, and she had, like, no clue that I am a transgender woman.

ADLERSTEIN: Instead of calling the reporter back, Fallon calls up Sports Illustrated and gives them an exclusive interview with the first ever transgendered professional MMA fighter.

FOX: It sounds like it's going to be a really, really great story. Finally, I get to get all of this off of my chest. Two days later, all of a sudden, there was a public outcry.

ADLERSTEIN: Overnight, her story became a scandal. The famous MMA commentator Joe Rogan went off on Fallon on his podcast.


JOE ROGAN: Get the [bleep] out of here. You're out of your mind. You need to fight men, you know, period. You need to fight men your size 'cause you're a man. You're a man without a [bleep].

ADLERSTEIN: MMA is an extremely brutal sport. When women started participating just a few years ago, it was really controversial. And now, Fallon is the first transgendered MMA fighter, and people hotly debated her right to fight. They said Fallon's hands were too big, that her shoulders were too broad. People talked about bone density, muscle mass and chromosomes, and Fallon would try to argue the points.

FOX: Dr. Fallon says (laughter)...

ADLERSTEIN: But Fallon is not a doctor.

FOX: Don't ask me. Ask the doctors on the Olympic Committee who allow transgender people to participate. Ask the commissioners of the American Boxing Association. Ask all of these people, all these medical personnel who know about transgender bodies.

ADLERSTEIN: In 2004, the International Olympic Committee declared that if transgendered athletes had gone through gender reassignment surgery, had been legally recognized as their assigned gender and have had at least two years of hormone therapy, that it is fair for them to compete. Fallon had been taking hormones for over five years when she started training.

FOX: So I mean, if they're fine with it and they're telling me all of this stuff, I think I'm going to believe them because they're smarter than me and any other person who doesn't have an education on this issue.

ADLERSTEIN: Even though it's legal for Fallon to compete, in the middle of all of this controversy, who is going to step into the ring against her?

FOX: Fortunately, Allanna Jones was slated to fight me in the next round of the tournament, and she accepted. And she didn't pull out. I past her in the hallway before the fight, and she seemed very respectful. They call her name, Allanna Jones.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Please welcome, in the blue corner, Allanna Jones.


FOX: And all of a sudden, I hear, through the speakers, the song "Dude Looks Like A Lady."


AEROSMITH: (Singing) Dude looks like a lady...


UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATOR #3: She did it (laughter). Allanna Jones with that song choice - I guess somebody had to do it.

FOX: Everyone was laughing. People started just cheering for that song. She started screaming. It energized her. So next was me. I come up, and I was kind of hoping that a lot of my fans would be in the crowd - nothing but boos, boos - not just boos, but, like, slurs. Everything - all of my fears, everything that I've been told or heard or seen on the Internet, every negative thing that I've heard about trans people was all coming out all at once, right before one of the biggest fights of my life.

But I just felt drained of energy, drained of - almost drained of hope, so I just focused on that cage. I focused on her, and I did my best to shut out the voices around me. But fortunately (laughter), my technique prevailed, and I was able to get her in the third round. I was able to get her down, and I won by a shin-on-the-throat choke.


UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATOR #4: ...Knee on the jugular. Oh, and Allanna Jones taps out. A knee across the throat from Fallon Fox, Allanna Jones taps out in the third and final round. Fallon Fox comes untrapped.

FOX: The thing that I feared the most that they would hate me for, they hated me for. And it was crushing. Everything that I loved and cared about was just stripped away from me for no reason - not just for no reason, but for the reason just because I existed.

ADLERSTEIN: Fallon Fox was not always Fallon Fox. She grew up male-bodied as Boyd Burton, in a tough neighborhood in Toledo, Ohio. Her parents were evangelical Christians, and as a kid, Boyd would sneak out of church and run back home to rummage through her sister's closet.

FOX: My sister has a pair of shoes. I put a piece of paper at the tip of the shoe to make sure I put it back right in the exact same spot where I had it, you know - draw a picture of where I put things, you know, to make sure I don't get busted for wearing clothes.

ADLERSTEIN: Keeping a secret from your family is one thing, but at the age of 19, Boyd joined the Navy. On base, every once in a while, Boyd would stand in front of the mirror in a dress and makeup while the rest of the sailors were just outside her door.

FOX: Open the door, crack a door, look out in the hallway, and look both ways to make sure - damn sure - that my military friends do not see me because if they see me like this, I'm done. I have to make it across the hall to get to the bathroom. And my roommate's room is to the left. The living room is to the right. I remember there was a guy that was laying on the couch. I knew he was passed out because I looked out of the corner of my room, and I saw him there. Now, I have to still make it to the bathroom through the hallway without my face being seen because it has makeup on.

ADLERSTEIN: She would look at herself one last time and then change back into uniform.

FOX: And when I took it off, when I would just stand there and look in the mirror, just unbelievable amounts of discomfort with my face, with my body, with not having breasts - just an extreme uncomfortability with being male.

ADLERSTEIN: After four years in the service, Boyd left the Navy.

FOX: Right after I got out of the military, I realized that I wasn't surrounded by men all of the time. I started behaving - and outwardly - how I truly felt inside. And I decided that it would be a good idea if I transitioned.

ADLERSTEIN: The transition to a female body involved hormone therapy and an extremely expensive surgery. To save up for it, Boyd, now Fallon, drove an 18 wheeler.

FOX: I'm driving the truck, and I feel - my shirt is wet, and I'm like, oh, my God, that feels kind of odd.

ADLERSTEIN: Fallon had been buying estrogen on the Internet.

FOX: I pulled over, and I went to the back of the cab. And you know, I take off my shirt, and I look, and like - I'm touching my breasts, and I squeeze it. And just a stream of liquid goes flying across the cab. And I'm like, wow, that's amazing (laughter). That's amazing. I didn't expect that, so...

ADLERSTEIN: Eventually, she got a doctor to monitor her hormone levels and a therapist to help her with the psychological shift. Finally, at age 30, Fallon flew to Thailand, alone, for her sexual reassignment surgery.

FOX: Directly after the surgery, I was like, oh, my God, this hurts (laughter). That's what I was thinking. But, I mean, when I was able to come to and like think for little bit, you know, I was like, OK, this is good. This is great. This is great. I can't wait to see the final product. But I was so happy and ecstatic that I had actually got it done.

ADLERSTEIN: Fallon came home in the body she'd always wanted, but this body came with some new challenges.

FOX: Your fat displacement changes, and your metabolism changes.

ADLERSTEIN: She was still living in a tough neighborhood. Now, she worried about being able to defend herself, so she joined a gym.

FOX: So I went into XSport Fitness, and I talked to an instructor there. And he hooked me up with a punching bag and weights, and I really found the punching bag of real interest. I remember one day, I came in, and he said, if you really want to learn how to hit this thing the right way, you should come into an MMA gym.

The first time I walked into that MMA gym, like, I saw women hitting the bag - hitting the punching bag and doing wrestling and doing jujitsu and hitting each other and sparring. Do you ever wonder what the Amazons would have looked like in real life? I think in MMA, like, you see it - that warrior spirit. You see that determination. You see that heart. You see that bravery. I saw it. I saw it when I was looking - when I first started training. The tools that people normally need for self-protection, for confidence, were stripped away from me, and I saw it. And I just wanted to reach out and grab it. I needed to grab it, and that's exactly what I did.

ADLERSTEIN: What do you get out of MMA?

FOX: What do I get out - I - to say that you're elite, to know that, like, you're one of the baddest people on Earth, pretty much (laughter). That gives a person confidence.

ADLERSTEIN: How does it feel to pummel someone?

FOX: It feels really good to hit someone (laughter), you know? And it's a good feeling because - the only reason why it's a good feeling is 'cause I have a chance of getting hit back. That's the nature of MMA, like, you know? I break people's faces. I break their arms. I break their legs. That's a part of the sport. That's my job. That's the job of the opponent who's trying to do the same thing to me.

ADLERSTEIN: So far, Fallon has fought three people, but she remains undefeated. Her next opponent is Ashlee Evans-Smith. Though Fallon's odds are 9-1 in this fight, Ashlee has the crowd on her side.


FOX: Unfortunately, the crowd was even more visceral than they were with Allanna Jones.


FOX: Round one, Ashlee, she grabs me by the leg and goes for a single-leg takedown. I try to do a move where I take my hand and put it behind her neck and jump up onto the person's shoulders and put them in a position for what we call a triangle. But I was so distracted by everything that was going on, that I forgot to put my hand where it was supposed to go. I ended up falling on the back of my head - big flash of light, everything went gray. All I remember is seconds later, this grayness was going away, and I was moving. I was in the middle of a fight, and I was losing.

ADLERSTEIN: Fallon regains her composure. She battles for three rounds, but at the end of the fight, Ashlee Evans-Smith is on top of her, delivering blows to her head.

FOX: I heard the tap, tap, tap, tap, tap of the referees on the outside. The punches kept coming. And all of a sudden, you hear the bell.


FOX: It's the end of the round, but the punches still kept coming. The ref pushes her off me and declares Ashlee Evans-Smith the victor of the fight.


UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATOR #4: Ashlee Evans-Smith - a perfect game plan, Pat (ph) - becomes the first woman to beat Fallon Fox.

UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATOR #5: The perfect storm - I don't think Fallon Fox expected that kind of fight out of her. Ashlee Evans-Smith came in and was ready to rock 'n' roll.

FOX: I was depressed for days, you know? But at the same time, it was like a lot of people were able to see that I can be defeated. It humanized me. It made me - it made people understand that I could lose.

ADLERSTEIN: So some people say that you threw this fight.

FOX: I mean, as if I would lay there and have someone beat on my face with 4-ounce gloves (laughter), you know, in the middle of a championship round where I have the chance of winning $20,000 and moving on with my MMA career. That's rather ridiculous, and it's offensive.

ADLERSTEIN: After the loss, Fallon won her next two fights. But she is still unranked by the UFC. Ronda Rousey, the number-one female fighter, has publicly refused to fight Fallon. So right now, her hopes of getting a title shot are slim. Do you wish that no one knew? Do you wish that your secret had stayed a secret?

FOX: If no one knew that I was trans - let's say that I made it very, very far. Let's say I went to the UFC and became a UFC champion, even, won the belt title, took it home and no one ever knew - that would be great for me. That would be awesome, and, like, you know, yeah, that would be really great. I'd have a lot of money. I'd be rich, and I could go on and do, like, some pretty incredible things if no one knew, if no one had this biased against me.

Then again, like, coming out has shined a light on transgender people when nobody was talking about us and nobody cared about our problems and our oppression. So it's catch-22, you know? Which one do I uphold the value more - myself, or transgendered people? And not - right now while I'm thinking this, I'm going to say transgender people. So in the end, all of this was beneficial, even though it was painful.

WASHINGTON: Thank you so much, Fallon Fox, for sharing your story. We'll have the link to the upcoming documentary, "Game Face," along with Fallon Fox's fan page, on our website, You're going to want to check this out. And if you've got something that you want to say, hit us on our Facebook. SNAP JUDGMENT's got a Facebook page, of course. Hit us on the Twitter. That piece was produced by Ana Adlerstein, with sound design by Renzo Gorrio.

Now, when SNAP JUDGMENT continues, Julia DeWitt discovers the end of days, for real, with SNAP JUDGMENT, the "Rites Of Passage" episode. Stay tuned.

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