Valentina Shevchenko versus Amanda Nunes: unmissable

Valentina Shevchenko versus Amanda Nunes: unmissable

That’s a fight we can’t miss. Two of the best 135lbs weight class fighters going for Amanda’s title.

I’m no fighter and no expert. As an athlete, I’m a powerlifter, with a history in fencing, martial arts and track and field. As an academic, I’m a biologist, biochemist and a sociologist (BS, MS and Ph.D). Mix all that and you have a pretty unique outlook on things. I’ll try to share with you what this fight stirs in my mind.

There are two lines of argument that suggest a pretty awesome perspective on MMA female pro fighting and this one in particular. One comes from the multidisciplinary approach to human anatomy evolution. The other comes from the history of sports and the ascension of female athletics.

In 2003, Richard Young (Young 2003) published an article that presented exhaustive data supporting an argument that contradicted everything previously assumed about the evolution of the human hand. Until then, it was a consensus in the scientific literature that the evolution of the unique human grip, with its opposing thumb and a variety of skilled prehensile movements, was a result of labor. The co-occurrence of paleontological remains and artifacts suggested that the selection of more hand-skilled individuals resulted in our modern humans, including their bigger brain cortex and speech. In other words, humans were “humanized” by labor. The picture shown by Young is quite different: the emergence of the modern hand anatomy, as well as complete bipedalism and modern cranial structure predate the first artifacts in many thousands of years. Moreover, data suggests that the two basic types of grip correspond to aggressive movement tasks: clubbing and throwing, instead of precision for work.

This inverts the way we understand the role of aggression, fighting and attacking in human evolution. Instead of a “skilled” smart social animal (Homo habilis) that, under harsh circumstances, engaged in violence, we have a violent social animal whose most violence-efficient individuals – those that could better use their hands in lethal action while standing on two feet and organizing attack with other band members – left their genetic heritage in the form of modern humans.

Culture and Civilization, everything that we cherish, came as a result, and not a cause of belligerent behavior (war). War and lethal attack are our default behavior.

Tough pill to swallow, isn’t it?

But let’s elaborate on this. First, let’s bury once and for all the romantic “bon sauvage” myth: that’s all it is, a debunked hypothesis preserved as myth. Some of the most horrific behaviors that we have agreed, in most societies, to outlaw, are very much “natural”: murder, rape, torture, cannibalism, incest and the list goes on. Let us start agreeing that “natural” does not mean “good”, “acceptable” or “civilized”. Other completely unnatural behaviors, resulting from coercion (soft or hard), institutional arrangements and, basically, sublimation of darker impulses are things we all agree to be good: tolerance of the “other”, education, social diversity, art, science and sport.

Of all the cultural manifestations we came up with in the past many thousands of years, the sports are what connects us most closely to our origin. Among them, the fights are the pure form of what made us human, minus killing.

Something in everybody’s mind reacts to a fight. In a sense, it is like we are remembering something, but not quite so. It is a quasi-memory that keeps escaping us, but we need it, to make sure we are what we are: human.

We came a long way from our lethal, aggressive ancestors to our science, art and sport loving cultures, our democratic societies that impose (and very necessarily so) strict repression on the manifestation of offensive dark impulses. But that doesn’t change the fact that the bold, aggressive great, great, great, great grandfather and grandmother live inside us through our genome.

But wait: I said grandmothers, didn’t I? Because the complex complete-bipedalism-big-cortex-human-grip could only evolve if manifested in both sexes. Yes: our female ancestors were tough, ruthless girls.

Woman have gained terrain in all sports, including the strength sports. It is non-controversial today that women can be strong, and very much so. That there is nothing “unnatural” in female strength.

What MMA female pro-fight does is cross the t’s and dot the I’s in this story: not only it is not unnatural. It is what we are. Looking at these women at the octagon is at the same time a fraction-of-a-second flash at our truest and most ancient nature and the expression of the best of what we built as a Humanity: meritocracy. Because they will fight under rules, with sophisticated technique, the best will win and all will be well. Darkness and light, ordered and in place. Past and present reconciled, at last.

Nothing could be better for that than the Shevchenko-Nunes fight: their fabulous talent, their skill, strength and power, plus much of our gene pool and ancestry in two rule-abiding, ethical fighters. Bring it on.



Young, Richard W. “Evolution of the human hand: the role of throwing and clubbing.” Journal of Anatomy 202.1 (2003): 165-174.

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