By Susan Elizabeth Shepard
Last week, Australian MMA fighter Bec Hyatt, currently under contract with Invicta, closed out the last of four eBay auctions of her fight-worn gear. The four lots on the block at eBay.au were her walkout T-shirt, a pair of signed gloves, a sports bra and laminate pass, and her weigh-in gear, which consisted of her own branded shirt and a pair of hot pants from Australian clothing line Pillfreak. Every mention of the auction -- and they all focused on the weigh-in outfit -- referred to it as a sale of "used underwear," as in the Uproxx headline, "Today In Classy MMA News: Somebody Paid $300 For Bec Hyatt's Used Underwear."
In that story, Brandon Stroud wrote "turning over your gear -- or in this case, the clothes you wore before you even put ON your gear -- is an easy way to pop a couple hundred bucks from a collector. Sorry, autocorrect got me there. An easy way to pop a couple hundred bucks from a creep." Elsewhere, references to Hyatt's "panties" and "used undies" elicited the kind of tittering comments you'd expect from boys excited to look at a Victoria's Secret catalog. Which would be understandable if Hyatt was participating in the worn underthings secondary marketplace to sell lingerie to fetishists.
Was she, though? Well, fans are aware of the financial realities of MMA, so maybe it seems possible that a fighter would do that, even if it seems slightly less plausible that this particular fighter -- one who's nicknamed "Rowdy," sports neon tattoos and a shock of platinum hair and is mother to two boys -- would. Hyatt undertook the auctions to raise funds for a trip to North America. "I've been planning a trip to Canada and the U.S. for training and I needed to raise money and I realized I had a really good fanbase that love me and adore me, and they're always asking for signed pictures and signed merchandise," she said yesterday over the phone from Brisbane, Australia. "I thought that if I did an auction they'd be more generous bidding on my fighting stuff because they get something in return, and yeah, they loved it, and the auctions were really successful.
"I was raising all the money on my own, but my major sponsor Americana are bringing me out to Toronto so I don't have to pay for a huge lump of my fights now. Otherwise I'd have to raise it all by myself, which is what I was gonna do in the beginning. I don't have money just sitting there because I won't be fighting until next year."
But used panty sales weren't a part of her fundraising plans. For one thing, eBay is notoriously strict about the sales of used clothing, mandating that used items be laundered. For another, the buyer wasn't a male underwear aficionado. The winning bidder was, in fact, a woman, a fan who wanted to add to her collection of fight memorabilia. "One Australian, she won two of the auctions, my signed gloves and my weigh-in attire," said Hyatt. The other two auctions were won by Fund A Fighter, who told Hyatt to keep the memorabilia and to consider the bids a contribution to her fundraising.
"A lot of people assumed there were creepy people trying to bid on my underwear, but it actually turned out to be a lady who collects memorabilia. I just think that when it comes to women's -- I guess they look at it as underwear," said Hyatt. "It's just my weigh-in gear. But people automatically think it's some creep who wants to smell them in their basement."
Maybe they think that because they're projecting. Maybe fans are in denial or confused about their own desire to own game- or fight-worn apparel from male athletes, and experience a little subconscious homosexual panic that they then transfer into hypersexualizing otherwise mundane athlete-fan transactions. Maybe the idea of a woman having to do something slightly unsavory for money fit into the narrative of this young mother who recently left an abusive marriage (Hyatt left her ex-husband in May; he subsequently hacked her social media accounts and domain name, deleting her YouTube videos and blog, leaving up a single accusatory post.)
Or maybe athletes are athletes even when they wear pink hot pants and what is characterized as exploitation at first is just honest fan support. Of the fans she's encountered in person at Invicta fights, Hyatt says "They give great support and it's really nice and you always feel welcome, you don't feel like they want to see girls competing in underwear, they're actually there for the good fights, they're not there to perv."
Not that there aren't actual pervs perving out there, commenting on fan sites and message boards. "The internet gives them free reign for what they want to say because they're protected behind the keyboard, so you can get the sleazy and stupid comments like 'get back in the kitchen' and things like that. But I think it's the same for all women's sports," said Hyatt. "There's always gonna be that one or two that pop up and say something disrespectful."
There were a few cracks on Hyatt's own Facebook postings about her auctions, some advising her to maximize her profits by marketing her weigh-in attire to the allegedly thriving Japanese marketplace for worn clothing. She handled them easily, with a playful "get yo mind out the gutter," an all-purpose admonishment for anyone commenting on female athletes and the properties conveyed by their bodies.
Susan Elizabeth Shepard is a writer in Austin.