An hour after her technical knockout victory last night in San Jose, just a second before the horn ending the first round, Cris Cyborg was asked if she resented having been cast as the “heel” in her confrontation with the glamourous and charismatic Gina Carano.
“Gina can have the title of ‘face of girls’ MMA,’” the Portuguese-speaking Cyborg responded through an interpreter. “I have this title.”
And she pointed to her new Strikeforce middleweight championship belt – the first ever bestowed on a female fighter by this promotion, at the conclusion of the first major MMA show ever headlined by women.
Carano and Cyborg’s furious five minutes raised the HP Pavilion roof. The arena, filled to 90 percent capacity – with nearly 100 percent of the fans cheering wildly for the American cutie over the Brazilian destruction machine – created an extraordinary gender-neutral big-event atmosphere.
In turn, that could both permanently lift the MMA’s women’s division and transform the profile of Strikeforce as a viable alternative to Ultimate Fighting Championship, where the only women are ornaments.
Moving forward, the only problem may be that other women – or Cyborg and Carano themselves if a rematch is ever made – will be hard-pressed to match Saturday’s performance.
It was an action fight, easily the most electric of the nine-bout card. Cyborg was never in serious trouble. Gina gave as good as she got for at least the first three minutes before Cris’s superior leverage and relentlessness simply overwhelmed her.
On the ground, Carano powered out of Cyborg’s attempted heel hook and foiled a kimura armbar. But eventually Cris got the mount near the octagon cage, Gina’s guard closed up, and a dozen or more wind-up 12-to-6-o’clock right hands rained down.
The crowd booed referee Josh Rosenthal’s stoppage at 4:59, but it was hard to argue with – Carano had stopped defending herself. She rose from the canvas after a minute of medical attention, forced a dimpled smile and congratulated the new champ.
Carano had trained for this fight with Randy Couture, and she may have been overconfident in her new wrestling and clinch skills.
Or she just may have been overly amped up by the history, the hype and the crowd, which led her to try to match Cyborg blow by blow and move by move. Surely second-guessers will wonder if Carano would have better served herself in her more familiar stand-up Muay Thai posture, at least for a round of feeling out an opponent whose overall skill set was at another level.
Even though the more marketable name lost, Strikeforce came out a winner, as the women clearly proved a plus in the company’s quest for perception as a solid No. 2 to UFC, if not a potential 1-A.
Though many male fighters not on Saturday’s card were introduced to the crowd, the other recent Strikeforce coup – the signing of heavyweight kingpin Fedor Emelianenko after he spurned a multimillion-dollar offer from UFC – got no bump at all from the 13,524 in attendance or the Showtime television audience. Emelianenko wasn’t there.
Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker later explained, “When Fedor is in training, nothing can get him out of camp.” An insider had a less generous explanation: “Fedor is just impossible to work with.”
On Saturday night another Brazilian, heavyweight Fabricio Werdum, made a case for being in line to challenge Emelianenko. Werdum submitted Mike Kyle, one of several San Jose local favorites on the undercard, with a guillotine choke in 1:24 of the first round.
Gegard Mousasi, an impressive fighter out of Armenia, won the Strikeforce light heavyweight championship from Renato Sobral with a one-minute TKO.
Gilbert Melendez, billed as the Strikeforce “interim” lightweight champion during the injury absence of Josh Thomson, stopped Mitsuhiro Ishida with a series of unanswered ground strikes at 3:56 of Round 3.