Carano's loss to 'Cyborg' hurts women's MMA

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It was a historic first for women's MMA as Gina Carano and Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos headlined the Strikeforce card at the HP Pavilion Center on Saturday night in San Jose, Calif. The two women became the first female fighters to be featured in the main event of a major MMA show, and more than delivered. After being built for more than a year, first by the now-defunct Elite XC and then by Strikeforce, the fight was a hot commodity, drawing 13,524 fans.
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It was an action packed fight for the 145-pound women's title, filled with furious standup exchanges and vicious ground-and-pound, with the vast majority of the crowd cheering wildly for Carano. After years of three-minute rounds, the women finally got a full five minutes to work — and it seemed to cost Carano. She was effective early, landing a crisp jab and blocking two takedown attempts. But after two minutes, Carano seemed tired and wasn't able to stay away from the stalking Santos. Santos continued to push the pace, allowing little time for Carano to catch her breath. As the seconds ticked away on the first round, Carano was trapped on the cage, taken off her feet and pounded out by her relentless opponent. With one second remaining in the round, referee Josh Rosenthal called an end to the contest when Carano offered no defense to Cyborg's sustained ground-and-pound assault. "Cyborg's a very aggressive opponent, came out, went after her. We knew that was gonna happen; we prepared for that," Carano's trainer Randy Couture said. "We did a lot of good things in the fight, but ultimately we got caught in a bad position."
When it was over, there was a new face of women's MMA. Carano, the media darling featured on magazine covers and on late night television programs had been deposed. "I want to thank Gina Carano for the opportunity," Santos said in an emotional post-fight interview. "I want to thank all the fans because I train a lot and I do everything for the fans. It's always for the fans." Santos becomes the new queen of MMA. For Strikeforce, and for women's MMA, that is a problem. Almost all of the promotional energy was devoted to Carano, a fighter with centerfold-quality looks. Strikeforce, and previously Elite XC, weren't exactly building up women's MMA; they were building up Gina Carano as a star. Now that she's lost the biggest fight of her career, there is nothing left to build toward. Strikeforce has devoted almost no time or effort into creating a new crop of contenders. There are no fighters waiting in the wings to challenge the new champion. Instead, the top fighter in the sport will have to wait for a challenger to be manufactured in an eight-woman tournament. It's either that or promote a fight against an opponent like Marloes Coenen, a Dutch fighter that American fans are unfamiliar with. While many are using this opportunity to proclaim women's MMA as the next big thing, the tremendous success of this show was due more to Carano's status than any general interest in seeing women fight. The fans in the building were raucous and thunderously loud, but when Carano fell, so did the noise level in the HP Pavilion. The silence was an ominous sound for female fighters and fans of the sport.

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No one can be happy about this result, except for those in the Cyborg camp. At this point, what's good for Carano is good for women's MMA. Because of the promotional efforts of Strikeforce and Elite XC, Carano and women's MMA are almost interchangeable. It's a lonely morning for Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker. Instead of calling the top contender for a fight with Carano's conqueror, his phone remains on the hook. The only female fighter that mattered left the cage and hid from the media, according to Couture nursing her injured pride more than any physical wounds. There is no one to call. With Carano blazing a trail into the mainstream, the sport has reached a pinnacle. Without her, the entire venture dangles precariously on the edge of success. For women's MMA, that's a scary place to be. Jonathan Snowden is the author of Total MMA: Inside Ultimate Fighting, as well as a contributor and The Fight Network.

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