SPORT

UFC Porn Is Real And It’s Spectacular

Going deep into the fascinating world of fight-themed pornography

(Photos: Getty Images, Photo Illustration: R. A. Di Ieso/Vocativ)
Dec 22, 2015 at 11:01 AM ET

Ariel X trained for several years before earning her purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. She still trains to this day, and has added Muay Thai, Sambo, weightlifting and running to her regimen. During any given week, she can put in as much as 18 hours of training—all in service of keeping herself primed to compete in Ultimate Surrender, a fetish porn submission wrestling website where women fight to claim sexual conquest over one another.

That combat sports readily lend themselves to eroticization is hardly news. The Olympics of Greek antiquity prominently featured wrestling, boxing and pankration (a sort of latter day MMA). In a seeming nod to the audience’s sexual voyeurism, clothing was eventually done away with and experts have argued that the events were “all about watching naked men.”

Indeed, wrestling, perhaps more so than any other sport, highlights bodies; they are the only equipment, the only elements in play and therefore the only objects upon which spectators train their eyes. Overwhelmingly, those bodies are male, but Ultimate Surrender flips that script.

True to its roots, Ultimate Surrender’s set consists of a bare mat, a mounted scoreboard, and two (or occasionally more) participants. There’s nothing to distract from the brute physicality on display, which is the point in both conventional and erotic wrestling. Ultimate Surrender is similarly strict about the purity of its (unscripted) combat.

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The site doesn’t traffic in playful tussling as a pretense for sex. Records are kept on each performer detailing their height, weight, wins, losses and match-by-match stats, with an elaborate scoring system in place that incorporates both submission holds and sexual acts. A match usually yields 40 minutes of footage before the winner takes her reward in the form of sexual dominion over the loser. Not only are the matches protracted, they’re intense. The site notes, with pride, that some wrestlers have quit mid-match after finding the combat too physically demanding.

Ariel, the site’s current director, told me that the founder—Matt Williams, a man—wrestled in college and was heavily into bondage: “He liked the idea of being trapped without rope or devices but rather someone’s brute strength.” That women would be the ones wrestling was the premise from the start, but the company struggled to find willing female participants.

Gradually, as its reputation grew—the site is now 11 years old—some women, like Ariel, began training specifically for the sex-sport. In its current iteration, it’s nothing like “a couple of porn girls flailing around on a mat pretending,” Ariel says. The fan base has developed accordingly, with viewers complaining bitterly if a wrestler appears to be half-assing. They want “authentic competition” and the editing of the site’s videos—two-thirds wrestling, one-third pure sex—attests to that priority.  

I attended a filming of Ultimate Surrender years ago, as part of a larger party at the (in)famous Kink.com armory. I remember the energy in the crowd being nothing like the wary, sleazy vibe of some strip clubs, it was much more akin to that of any sporting event: high-spirited, boisterous, eager for competition. The wrestlers were of the same mindset, not coy seducers motivated by desire but aggressive athletes determined to win. Though the objective of the match is to sexually manhandle the subdued opponent, thereby winning “style” points, it’s hard for an audience (or cameras) to see much penetration. Legs squeeze shut, torsos twist away, body parts block “the action.”

This is the most curious aspect of Ultimate Surrender: it lures viewers in with the promise of hardcore sex, but primarily satisfies them with a good old sports match. The sexual elements of the fight sometimes seem like window dressing since athletic exertion is so clearly the main event—which is not to say that sex and athleticism are opposed. Still, jocularity reigns supreme even during the so-called “sex round.” The winner never loses her cocky edge, and her commentary inevitably emphasizes that this final domination of the loser’s body is a natural extension of the sport.

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Ultimate Surrender softens the potentially dude-challenging truth at its core—wrestling sure does look a lot like fucking—not only by replacing male bodies with female ones, but by employing language that pays homage to conventional masculinity and playfully participating in misogynist tropes.

“Shame points” are what one competitor receives when she manages to grab her opponents’ breasts, undress, finger or lick her. Not to put too fine a point on it, the site adds, “these points tell the world you got turned into someone’s bitch.” The winner is encouraged to “humiliate” the loser while she dominates her sexually, mocking the loser’s poor performance and reveling in her own superiority. In one of Ariel’s scenes, she showily flexes her biceps while thrusting her strap-on into the loser. It’s at once campy, sexy and funny, a presentation that subtly mocks the same uber-masculine behavior it mimics.

Kink.com’s brother site to Ultimate Surrender, Naked Kombat, has none of this subversive pleasure. As a straight woman who’s enthusiastically pro-hot guys doing anything even remotely erotic together, it left me curiously cold. Naked Kombat—where two men compete instead of two women—felt somehow too obvious to have the delightful psychosexual charge of Ultimate Surrender, perhaps because it illustrates such a logical outcome to wrestling’s usual form.

Kink.com employee Michael Stabile confirmed that Ultimate Surrender’s viewership is two to three times that of Naked Kombat’s, but with the note that Kink’s straight audience is much larger. (Membership to each site under the Kink.com umbrella must be purchased separately.)

The sex appeal of overtly erotic sports—wrestling, MMA and, let’s face it, even some of the tackles in football—may be owed to the fact that no matter how pornographic the bodily arrangements can seem, a sexual dimension for the participants is absent.

There’s something captivating about watching muscled, capable men and women move without regard for how sexually appealing they are in that (very sexy) moment; it lets us objectify them at the height of their powers. But the competitor has everything except sex on his or her mind. When Channing Tatum, who played a wrestler in “Foxcatcher,” remarked that wrestling is “too painful and violent” to be “homosexual,” he meant it was too painful and violent to inspire sexual feelings in the participants, no matter how it looks to observers.

As Ariel told me when I asked about her casting process, “It’s very easy to turn a porn star into a wrestler. It’s not easy to convince a wrestler to do porn.”