When Fallon Fox sat in a movie theater to watch "42" earlier this year, she was struck by the similarities between her career in mixed martial arts and Jackie Robinson's ascent in Major League Baseball. Robinson broke the color barrier and became the first African-American to participate in baseball's highest division.
Fox faces a different -- but also steep -- climb in her effort to gain acceptance in her sport. Fox, one of the most controversial figures in MMA, was born a male and, in 2006, underwent gender-reassignment surgery.
"When I was watching it, there were a lot of similarities between his situation and my situation now, especially the part where the announcers were talking about how black people have an unfair advantage over white baseball players because they felt that black people were field-grown and were a different shape or something which gave them an unfair advantage because of their bone structure," Fox said. "That's the same argument that people use against me in various ways."
In 2008, Fox caught the attention of a trainer at her gym and was offered an opportunity to train for MMA. Fox, whose athletic background included a year of wrestling in high school, quickly took to the sport and turned professional in 2011.
"I saw the first couple of (Ultimate Fighting Championships) when it first came out way back in the day," she said.
Last Friday, Fox improved to 3-0 with a victory against Allanna Jones in the co-main event of CFA (Championship Fighting Alliance) 11 at the BankUnited Center on the campus of the University of Miami (Fla.). The victory propelled Fox, 37, into the finale of CFA's featherweight tournament, where she will face Ashlee Evans-Smith later this year for the title and a $20,000 prize.
"It's not surprising to me at all given the amount of time I've put in and the dedication," Fox said of her rapid ascent. "I train almost every day. It's like work. ... Work and train. That's all I've been doing for five years straight."
Fox's mainstream acceptance is coming a little more slowly. Jones, who entered first, gave Fox a subtle jab with her walk-out music, "Dude Looks Like a Lady" by Aerosmith. Fox entered next to a smattered chorus of boos from fans, who supported Jones throughout the fight.
"I think that walk-out song was a tad bit disrespectful," Fox said. "But she paid for it in the end."
Despite the negative reaction, CFA CEO Jorge De La Noval said the entire experience, controversy and all, helped CFA as a promotion.
"It did a lot for us," De La Noval said. "It gave us a lot of exposure. We had the company to back it up, and here we are, on national TV."
Fox hopes to capture the CFA title in what will likely be another nationally televised fight. But her bigger goal is to prove herself against the sport's elite.
"I'd just like to go as far as I can," Fox said. "That's what I'm in it for. I want to compete against some of the best female fighters in MMA. That's my goal."