Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos will enter the cage on a 10-fight winning streak. | Photo: D. Mandel
Strikeforce Women’s Featherweight Championship
Cristiane Santos (10-1, 4-0 SF) vs. Hiroko Yamanaka (12-1, 0-0 SF)
The Matchup: In the women’s 145-pound division, there is Santos, and then there is everyone else. So far, nobody has been able to handle her wrath. It will be interesting to see what direction Zuffa LLC decides to go with its women’s brand in the coming year. Santos is undoubtedly the sport’s most dominant woman, but that does not always equal marketability in these times. A worthy challenger would help to build interest.
Next up for “Cyborg” is Yamanaka, a former Jewels standout whom many regard as the No. 2 featherweight in the world. Yamanaka carries an eight-fight winning streak into her Strikeforce debut, but it will not take long to find out how large the gap is between first and second best. True to her Chute Boxe roots, Santos will come out fast and aggressive, and Yamanaka will have to weather the storm early to have any hopes of taking the fight into the later rounds.
It has been more than a year since Cyborg stepped into the cage, so if the Brazilian somehow begins slowly, Yamanaka will need to take advantage. Santos’ striking power and physical prowess are unmatched, giving her opponent little, if any, room for error.
Yamanaka will need to use every bit of her 5-foot-11 frame to frustrate Santos, whether it be with kicks to create distance or through crafty submissions. Even if Yamanaka is able to land sharp combinations at a safe range, it is possible that Santos will walk right through them. While Cyborg is a renowned finisher, eight of Yamanaka’s 12 career wins have gone the distance. It is a long shot at best, but “Cat’s Eye” has a better chance of catching an overeager Santos in an armbar or triangle from her back than she does of surviving multiple exchanges. Even on the ground, Cyborg is no joke, with underrated awareness and intelligence.
The Pick: Santos is a master at breaking her opponent’s will through sheer physical dominance. Even if Yamanaka’s chin can survive the first frame, Santos’ strength and persistence will gradually wear on her. After such a long layoff, the champion will have a point to prove and will not want to waste time. Fighting with a purpose, Santos wins by first-round TKO.
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