Former Strikeforce women's bantamweight champion Marloes Coenen returns to familiar grounds as the latest addition to one of Japan's traditional New Year's Eve events.
Coenen (20-5), a native of Holland who was a pioneer of Japanese women's MMA dating back to her teenage years, fights for the 15th time in that country against Australian "Ferocious" Fiona Muxlow (6-1), in a 145-pound battle. It is the only woman's fight announced so far on a marathon show promoted by Glory Sports International at the Saitama Super Arena, just outside of Tokyo.
The 22-fight card, which combines kickboxing matches and MMA fights, is using the DREAM name for the MMA portion. The show airs in two parts in North America on CBS Sports Net, with the kickboxing on Monday night at 10 p.m. ET and the MMA on Tuesday night at 10 p.m. ET.
In Japan, it's part of a head-to-head battle, with a combination MMA, pro wrestling and kickboxing show being put together under the IGF banner, a pro wrestling company headed by Antonio Inoki, which runs at Sumo Hall in Tokyo. Inoki popularized the New Year's Eve tradition with a pro wrestling event in 2000, and then produced an MMA event that drew big ratings on network television in 2001 called Inoki Bom Ba Ye, which spawned a tradition in that country. His show features stars of New Year's Eve past in Japan, when big matches drew television audiences of 20 million to 53 million, using the major names from that era such as Bob Sapp, Naoya Ogawa, and Mirko Cro Cop.
This year's events, with the decline in popularity of MMA and kickboxing, have the least amount of interest of any year since that time.
Coenen was one of the first female MMA stars, winning an eight-woman open weight tournament at Budokan Hall in Tokyo on Dec. 5, 2000, when she was only 19 years old. She first garnered attention and popularity in Japan by forcing Dan Severn-protege Becky Levi, who was more than 200 pounds, to submit to a flying armbar.
She continued to fight, mainly in Japan through 2007, before debuting with Strikeforce in the U.S. in 2009. She lost when challenging Cris "Cyborg" Santos for the 145 pound title, but came back to beat Sarah Kaufman on Oct. 9, 2010, to win the bantamweight title. She lost the title to Miesha Tate on July 30, 2011, in Hoffman Estates, Ill., via arm triangle submission in the fourth round.
She was part of the fallout of Zuffa getting rid of several of the Golden Glory fighters in late 2011 and has only fought once since losing to Tate. She scored a win over Romy Ruyssen in the main event of the first Invicta Fighting Championships show on April 28 in Kansas City. She would have been a logical opponent for Ronda Rousey in UFC, but a combination of UFC officials getting the word that she could no longer drop to 135 pounds, and perhaps as much, the ongoing issues of Zuffa and Golden Glory, provided serious obstacles.
As Strikeforce bantamweight champion, Coenen made her lone successful title defense on March 5, 2011, in Columbus, OH, submitting Liz Carmouche, who faces Rousey in that fight, with a triangle from the bottom.
"Knowing that I already submitted one-half of the UFC's first-ever female fight, I'm keen on testing myself here in the Far East where martial arts started," said Coenen via press release. "I'm still one of the world's top females and have been ever since winning my first world title in Japan in 2000. I'm strong in my mission to dominate the women's MMA world."
Muxlow, 35, has fought her entire career in Australia and New Zealand, with three submission wins and one knockout.