No matter what Strikeforce’s big shots have to say about it, signing Fedor Emelianenko is the biggest blow the UFC has taken in years. And while this Saturday’s “Carano vs. Cyborg” event may not feature MMA’s golden goose, it is the promotion’s first chance to cash in on the buzz surrounding its name.
Great timing on the part of Strikeforce, as Gina Carano is one of the promotion’s most recognizable stars and fans have been clamoring for her to take on Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos for what seems like an eternity now.
Backing up that momentous showcase for women’s MMA is an interim lightweight bout pitting Gilbert Melendez against the man who handed him his first professional loss, Japanese sparkplug Mitsuhiro Ishida. Throw in the hotly anticipated light heavyweight title bout between Renato “Babalu” Sobral and another new acquisition, division-hopping ace Gegard Mousasi, and this is Strikeforce’s best chance yet to carve out a piece of the pie the UFC has been hoarding.
How that shakes out is anyone’s guess, but everyone lucky enough to get price gouged by their local cable company for Showtime will have a chance to find out for themselves.
Gina Carano vs. Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos
The Breakdown: After years spent relegated to fringe Japanese promotions and local barnhouse shows, women’s MMA finally gets a chance to win over the mainstream crowd with its first stateside superfight. Cover girl Gina Carano will finally take on “Cyborg” Santos in the fight that fans of the nascent division have been begging for. If you’re the type who gets freaked out by ladies hitting each other, turn away because both Santos and Carano have built their names on striking skills that have left the rest of the 145-pound division kowtowing to their dominance.
Who emerges as the alpha female on the feet is what this fight hinges on. Carano uses a precise, varied striking style that overwhelms opponents while Santos is a pure brawler with the power to turn the lights out on just about any featherweight, male or female. If Carano can use her movement and accuracy to frustrate Santos, she has the inside track on the win, but that means surviving a full-blown onslaught from the brutal Brazilian bomber. That is a feat no one has managed thus far.
The X Factor: The most underrated aspect of Carano’s game is her jiu-jitsu, which has been a literal lifesaver on more than one occasion for the undefeated champion. While the lone loss on Santos’ ledger came via submission, that was in her MMA debut. Regardless, Carano has to keep the mat in mind as her escape route if Santos starts turning her face into a scale model of a Jackson Pollack. For Santos, she still has to prove her jiu-jitsu is not the liability it once was.
* * *
The Bottom line: It’s no secret that Strikeforce and the now deceased EliteXC protected Carano while building her into a star, but those days are thankfully over as Santos is one of the most dangerous female fighters at any weight. That will become apparent early on, as Santos savors the opportunity long denied to her by blitzing Carano and scoring a knockout that will announce her as the division’s new matriarch.