It could be argued that Strikeforce’s most valuable asset isn’t Fedor Emelianenko, hyper-competent CEO Scott Coker, or the tremendous access allowed by CBS/Showtime; it’s their lockdown on female mixed competition, which has outdistanced early catcalls, derision, and fan immaturity to become one of the most entertaining and dynamic divisions in the sport.
For the holdouts, Saturday’s “Strikeforce: Carano vs. ‘Cyborg’” put the defense on permanent rest. 145 lb. contenders Gina Carano and Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos spent some of the most torturous five minutes in recent memory slugging, shooting, and swelling; it was Santos who wanted it more, muscling Carano in the clinch, landing the bigger power shots, and finally beating a grounded Carano like it was personal with only one second left in the round. (An MIA Carano unable to be interviewed due to medical intervention backstage should suffocate any idea that it was a premature stoppage.)
The one regret: As a teammate wrapped a shiny women’s title around Santos’ waist, promoters might have felt as though he were gift-wrapping the conqueror of one of the most consistent attention-and-money-earners of his promotion -- one who might not attract the same kind and volume of attention.
Next for Carano: A seriously awkward position as gatekeeper for Strikeforce’s women’s division. Or, more likely, an immediate rematch with Santos.
Next for ‘Cyborg’: Carano by virtue of being her physical equal: Japanese star Megumi Fuji is too small (115 lbs.) to be a factor; new Strikeforce employee Erin Toughill is Santos’ size, but an unknown commodity. Only Tara Larosa (17-1 and a barely-okay 125 lbs.) stands out as a challenge -- and she’s signed with Bellator for a fall tournament.
Next for Gegard Mousasi: A lot of foot-tapping: Strikeforce’s 205 lb. division is about as populated as Three Mile Island.
Optimism of the Night Award: Mike Kyle, for trying to secure an armbar on two-time jiu-jitsu world champion and 2007 ADCC champion Fabricio Werdum.
Academic Ending of the Night Award: Werdum, for choking the optimism out of Kyle not a minute later.
Freudian Gaffe of the Night Award: Showtime interviewer Jenn Brown, for un-ironically referring to Cristiane Santos as “Satan” while talking to Carano backstage.
Exhumed Body of the Night Award: Renato Sobral, for appearing as though he was looking into another dimension after being pounded by Mousasi.
Gender Equality of the Night Award: Heavily-braced Frank Shamrock, for calling the airborne Superman punch during Santos/Carano a “Superwoman” strike.
Will Carano’s vulnerability mean fewer tickets sold?
You could take the position that it wasn’t women’s MMA that grew in popularity over the past two years, but Carano’s popularity in particular. Now that she’s been bruised, it’s unlikely the non-English-speaking, somewhat less angelic presence of Cristiane Santos will be a suitable replacement.
Can Strikeforce cultivate a compelling women’s division?
Carano is a proven draw -- prior fights on CBS have attracted millions of viewers -- but in doing so, she’s run through a solid chunk of talent: Julie Kedzie, Rosi Sexton, Tonya Evinger, Kaitlin Young, and Kelly Kobold. Santos has also gone on quite a run. Many of the remaining threats -- particularly from overseas -- aren’t their physical equal. Can you still draw if you’re fighting beneath your level?
Is Fabricio Werdum a worthy challenge to Emelianenko?
In dispatching Mike Kyle with efficiency, Fabricio Werdum proved that he could -- dispatch Mike Kyle with efficiency. And not many people needed to be convinced of it.
Werdum is a tough, talented heavyweight with solid credentials, and it’s very possible Strikeforce’s three-fight contract with Emelianenko will need to enlist him. Whether that’s good for box office or just good for disappointing fans that might see Werdum as a step backward is something worth dwelling on.
Matt Lindland is Strikeforce’s latest acquisition…Showtime VP of Sports Programming Ken Hershman told Yahoo that the promotion is eyeing an October 10 debut for Emelianenko…middleweight champion Cung Le has made press rounds stating that he’s looking at a late fall or winter 2010 return.
Update 08/16/09: What I get for not spending several hours a day on YouTube: several readers informed me that Brown was not referring to Santos, but to a viral video featuring Carano’s conditioning coach, whom someone had dubbed “Satan.”