Gina Carano and (Almost) her Breasts Grace ESPN Cover

Gina Carano and (Almost) her Breasts Grace ESPN CoverESPN the Magazine captures the essence of the mainstream’s take on mixed martial arts in two photos in its new “Body Issue,” which hits newsstands on Friday.

To depict the female side of things, the magazine tapped not champion Cris “Cyborg” Santos but the fighter she vanquished in one round last month, Gina Carano. If you wonder why, all I can say is, “Duh!” One of six covers for the issue features a semi-nude shot of Carano in mid-kick . . . but not in great martial arts form, since she’s using her left arm not to add powerful torque to the swinging right leg but instead to cover her naked breasts. Oh, showbiz.

The magazine’s male representation of MMA is not as sex symbol but as grotesque deformity. Be sure to not still be digesting your lunch when you open the magazine, because you’re going to turn a page and suddenly be staring at the barren, bulbous terrain of Randy Couture’s cauliflower ear. As competition-aided deformities go, Randy’s is actually a thing of beauty, something to be admired. Or at least the grit that was necessary to cultivate the thing should be admired.

ESPN sure has a beauty-and-the-beast vibe in its depiction of male and female MMA.

Clearly, this first “Body Issue” is ESPN‘s alternative to the annual swimsuit issue that brings competitor Sports Illustrated so much attention, positive and negative. I think this is a better concept than what SI does, because it at least attempts to be relevant to sports by using athletes as models. Of course, the female shots I’ve seen are sexier than the male ones (maybe it’s just me), which seem to be more about muscle definition than pure beauty. But even the Carano cover photo shows her doing more or less what she does in competition. In SI, she’d be splashing blue water in front of a Caribbean sunset.

And let’s not overlook the significance of Gina Carano earning one of just six slots as cover models. There also are covers featuring two other women, tennis star Serena Williams and triathlete (and amputee) Sarah Reinertsen, along with Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard and NASCAR driver Carl Edwards. So MMA makes it ahead of baseball and hockey. Which is pretty shortsighted, in terms of newsstand sales, because if Alex Rodriguez had made the cover, he’d have bought up every copy in print so he could stare at himself.

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Jeff Wagenheim spent more than 20 years as an editor for the Boston Globe sports pages and now writes about mixed martial arts and college football for ESPNBoston.com. He also writes arts features for ...read more

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