After all, UFC and Zuffa president Dana White has been repeatedly adamant that he doesn't believe female MMA will ever realistically have a place in the UFC – largely because of his belief the talent pool of upper-echelon women's fighters is not deep enough to sufficiently fill out multiple divisions over a sustained period of time.
With Strikeforce under the Zuffa umbrella, the fear that the most well-known home for women's MMA could disappear into the ether with a possible future merger with the UFC is a real one. But it's one that women's 135-pound champion Marloes Coenen and her Saturday challenger, Miesha Tate, have no problem tackling head on.
"What I see is that Zuffa isn't a non-profit organization – they have to make money," Coenen said after a short workout Wednesday. "But that's the reason they keep (the women) here in the Zuffa family. A lot of guys are watching MMA, but if we can draw in the women, as well, and women say, 'Hey, they're normal girls and they kick (butt), and I can do that, too,' I think we can double the audience. If we can do that, we make more money – and they'll keep us around."
Coenen (19-4, 3-1 Strikeforce), who defends her title for the second time after beating Sarah Kaufman for the belt last October, believes her fight with Tate being the co-main event on a Showtime-televised card – in the Zuffa era, no less – is a good sign.
"They did put us in the co-main event – they could've put us in the Challengers show or on a non-televised card, but they chose not to do that," Coenen said. "By making that decision, that gives me a lot of confidence. Now that we've been given the chance, we have to prove that we deserve to be here."
Tate ( 11-2, 4-1 Strikeforce) comes in riding a five-fight winning streak, though this will be her first fight in nearly a year. The Team Alpha Male-trained fighter hasn't been shy about challenging White to give her sport a fighting chance – and she said taking advantage of the opportunity is crucial on Saturday.
"It's not exactly pressure, but I feel really motivated," Tate said. "I feel like this is our opportunity, and I want to make the most of it. I feel like there's going to be a lot of people paying attention to this, and Dana and Lorenzo (Fertitta) and all the guys at the UFC – Zuffa might start giving women a little bit of recognition, maybe start actually taking notice of it and becoming more informed on what it's about. Marloes and I are the two top ranked, so we really can say a lot about the caliber of talented women out there – and that's what I'm hoping for. I hope we really raise the bar."
Women's MMA had its first "face" of the sport in Gina Carano. Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos beat her two years ago for the 145-pound Strikeforce belt. Carano, set to star in the major movie "Haywire" this fall, has been out of action since that loss, and Cyborg, too, has been out for over a year.
The door appears to be wide open for Coenen or Tate to seize the title as the next face of women's MMA.
"I think Gina did a hell of a job – she really made (women's MMA) grow here," Coenen said. "I will always be thankful to her and respect her a lot. And Cyborg, if you don't respect her, you're crazy. If I can be (the new face of the sport), I'll do my best and I will honor the game and all the women in it, too."
Coenen and Tate fight in the co-main event of Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Henderson on Saturday at the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates, a northwest suburb of Chicago. The main event features a heavyweight non-title superfight between light heavyweight champion Dan Henderson and Fedor Emelianenko. The main card airs live on Showtime at 10 p.m. Eastern.
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