Arianny Celeste vs. Cris Cyborg? What a Pretty (Naked) Picture for MMA!

Arianny Celeste vs. Cris Cyborg? What a Pretty (Naked) Picture for MMA!Arianny Celeste, superstar UFC Octagon Girl, on the cover of Playboy. Cris “Cyborg” Santos pictured nude in ESPN The Magazine‘s second annual try at “The Body Issue.” Now mixed martial arts has really made it to the sports mainstream.

Why is this month’s newsstand cheesecake more significant than last October’s, which featured Gina Carano semi-naked in ESPN The Magazine’s first spread of “Body” shots? Because last year’s female fighter photo, while groundbreaking, truly was just cheesecake. It was Carano, the pretty face of MMA. Gina was an undefeated fighter at the time of that shoot, true, but her fame was built more — or at least equally — on her being a babe. That’s what made her a TV star, first on American Gladiators and then in the EliteXC and Strikeforce cage. A hell of an athlete, and as tough as they come, but her meal ticket was that face and that body. Those are what elevated Gina Carano above the rest of women’s MMA and into a topless ESPN The Magazine photo spread (which also featured Randy Couture, begging the question: Can a cauliflower ear be considered eye candy?).

A year later, different story. Cyborg, who beat Carano to a pulp shortly before last year’s ESPN The Girlie Magazine hit the stands, has never been accused of being a runway model. She’s blessed with an athlete’s body, lean and muscular and not particularly shapely. She is not graced with a smile that lights up the room. It’s not that the woman is unattractive, but her looks are not what make her special. What earned Cyborg a spot in the magazine (draped alongside her nekkid husband) is her fighting and nothing but. She’s in there because she’s an elite athlete, just like fellow fighter and nude magazine model Herschel Walker — although in his case the “elite” part came in his first athletic career more than his current one.

This year’s MMA cheesecake is found in the pages of the November issue of Playboy, a magazine that doesn’t fall for every pretty face . . . or pretty booty. For Hugh Hefner’s glossy to feature you on its cover, you’ve got to be either one of the ancient pajama man’s girls or in some other way relevant. Arianny Celeste is relevant because she’s a UFC Octagon Girl, which is to say that the UFC is wholly relevant to the culture at large.

No shocker there for anyone who’s been paying attention. After trying to fight its way out of the fringe sport shadows for the better part of a decade, MMA, and in particular the UFC, has burst into the mainstream these past few years. The sport has arrived. That’s the naked truth.

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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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