The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

My take: Cyborg/Carano

On an otherwise uneventful Strikeforce show on August 15th, the main event saw Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos stop fan favorite Gina Carano with a flurry of punches on the ground at 4:59 of Round 1. Now that the result is in the books, the main question surrounding the fight is what it means for both the present and future of women’s MMA?

In the short term, the suits at Strikeforce would admit (only in private, I’m sure) that the result did not go as they had wished. Undoubtedly, Carano’s movie-star looks and her rounds on the talk-show circuit would be put to even better use if she were carrying around a shiny new title belt with her. While one can argue that her star power largely remains undiminished, there is just as powerful an argument that it would have been exponentially augmented with a win over Cyborg.

On the other hand, I seem to recall that Rocky didn’t actually beat Apollo Creed until Rocky II. There is a compelling story to be told in the underdog showing heart in defeat the first time around, with a chance for redemption in the rematch should she work hard enough and possess the requisite fighting spirit. In addition, the semi-controversial nature of the stoppage allows both Strikeforce and Carano to promote the second fight by stating that with time to recover between rounds, the first fight may have gone differently.

Personally, I felt that referee Josh Rosenthal decided correctly based on the fact that Carano was turtling on the ground and taking some horrific shots to the face – 12 or 13 in a row, to be precise. Every fighter knows going in that if they are not intelligently defending themselves (helpful hint: turtling is not an intelligent or effective method of defense), the referee will often interpret that as the fighter angling for the fight to be stopped. End of discussion. Frankly, Carano showed me nothing to indicate that future rounds would go any differently than the first five minutes had.

Speaking of those first five minutes, don’t get me wrong – this was not a one-sided rout by any means. Without her usual 10-20 pounds of weight advantage, Cyborg at times found herself on the back foot, a bit off-put on the occasions where Carano was able to fire off crisp punches. The truth is, Cyborg has not been hit all that often…and this fight showed that if caught with some good shots, she can be taken off her game a bit. That alone is a ray of hope for Carano should there be a rematch.

While both fighters ranged from marginally-effective to quite effective in the stand-up, the groundfighting on display was another matter entirely. I won’t mince words – the only thing more embarrassing than the takedown defense of both fighters was the takedown attempts themselves. More often than not, the fighter attempting the takedown wound up collapsing on their back and into guard. The good news for both fighters in that case though was that other than the ground-and-pound that finished Carano, neither was able to do much on the deck. It was an abject display from both…end of story.

In the near future, women’s MMA doesn’t seem to have much to work with besides these two fighters…so, a rematch is probably inevitable. Personally, I would give both fighters an interim fight before that happens – it would build up Cyborg’s legend to annihilate someone else as the undisputed champ, while it would help rehabilitate Carano’s image to have a strong showing in her next fight. The only thing is that fighting a tomato may not do much for Carano, so perhaps a # 1 Contender’s fight between Carano and someone like Shayna Baszler would be the way to go. Baszler had seemed to be a fearsome striker herself before being humbled by Cyborg in the second round of their Elite XC fight in July 2008. But, what are the alternatives, especially at 145 lbs? Here’s an example: Tara Larosa is 17-1-0, but Sherdog lists her as 132 lbs…Cyborg would eat her lunch without much trouble. Still, you may have that fight to keep Cyborg busy while waiting for the Carano rematch.

Let’s assume that Carano wins a play-in fight, or gets the immediate rematch with Cyborg. What would she have to do differently, then? For one thing, questions have to be asked of a fighter who, with a world-class wrestler like Randy Couture in her corner, showed a comical lack of aptitude in that discipline. Did they train in it at all, or was the game plan to simply trade strikes with the one-dimensional striker? The reason I harp on this is, having seen the fight on Saturday, it’s blatantly obvious that the only way any currently-known fighter is beating Cyborg is to be able to get her off her feet and out of her comfort zone. Even at her best, even if she drills endlessly in stand-up defense, I don’t think Carano ever wins a fight where she’s trading bombs with Cyborg. She has to use the fact that they have comparable weights to get her on her back and either ground-and-pound effectively or maybe even work for a submission.

And, that’s the rub when it comes to where the future of women’s MMA is going. If I were in charge of a rookie women’s fighter, I would lock her in a room with the best Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners that I could get into training camp. Consider this – if there were anyone out there in the current landscape who could a) not be hideously outweighed by the Big Two and b) competently apply a kimura or triangle choke when the situation presented itself, in what situation would they EVER lose to Cyborg or Carano? If neither of those two ever improve their ground games, all it would take to dethrone them is one good BJJ expert. On one hand, I’m stunned that there aren’t 20 Brazilian women running around with BJJ black belts…but on the other, I’m sure that the macho factor is at play here and they aren’t being allowed into the clubhouse. It may have to be the case where one intrepid Brazilian woman (or a foreigner who learns the discipline) comes into prominence before it becomes accepted down there…much like the recent brilliant success of their women’s soccer team.

Failing that, it comes down to Carano having to improve and become more of a multi-faceted fighter in order to slay the beast. As mentioned, the physical appearance factor (and it’s unfortunate that this actually matters, but for a nascent sport trying to make the leap into the public consciousness, it is what it is) means that the best chance for women’s MMA to take off is for Carano to be the one to take the mantle. The good news is that women’s MMA is already in a better place than the sport itself was in the early days – there is no Art Jimmerson walking around with one boxing glove, no Keith Hackney frantically punching his opponent in the groin, no “superfights” consisting of Ken Shamrock and Oleg Taktarov circling around the octagon for the most excruciating 30 minutes of your life. All it takes is one complete fighter to come along (and if she looks anything like Carano, it can only help) to get this version of the sport on the radar of fans – and, perhaps even convince Dana White to finally include it in UFC competition as well.


August 17, 2009 - Posted by | MMA

1 Comment »

  1. Well I train with a professional female MMA Fighter. She fights at 115lb though lol … but Rodrigo Gracie is coming in for awhile to help with her jiu jitsu before her fight. This is her 2nd pro fight on OCT 3. But there you go, Rodrigo Gracie who else do you want to learn BJJ from? lol

    Comment by Glenn | August 17, 2009 | Reply

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