Women's MMA hits prime time

NEIL SPRINGER -- SLAM! Sports

, Last Updated: 8:49 AM ET

Tonight, for the first time in North American MMA history, a women's contest will headline a major show.

Strikeforce: Carano vs. Cyborg from San Jose features Gina Carano facing Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos for Strikeforce's first women's featherweight championship. It's another big step for a sport that has seen so much progression in the last decade.

But it might be too early to begin pushing the women's division to the top. Women's MMA can and will add another dimension to a rapidly growing sport, but the depth of competition simply isn't there yet.

ON CARANO'S SHOULDERS

Strikeforce, as well as the now-defunct EliteXC, dedicated time and resources to promoting women's MMA. Its success in North America has been saddled squarely on the shoulders of Carano (7-0).

A talented competitor who happens to be gorgeous, Carano is very marketable. The argument can be made that fans will tune in as long as she's on top. But if she fails against Santos (7-1), it will be hard to continue to sell the women's division to the casual fan.

Pinning hopes for success on one fighter is part of the reason boxing is in its current state. When that athlete falls, promoters are left with little or nothing.

Perhaps this fight will encourage more women to MMA and lead to a deeper talent pool in the future.

Skeptics will say that until there's more competition, tonight's fight will be the zenith for women's MMA before it returns to being overshadowed.


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