Gina Carano is no stranger to making history. The first to fight in a sanctioned women's MMA bout in the state of Nevada, the first woman to fight MMA on cable TV and later on network TV, on Saturday, the 27-year-old will add another impressive note to her resume, when she and Cris 'Cyborg' Santos become the first women to headline a nationally televised MMA event.
Cyborg vs. Carano is enjoying the type of media buildup that is usually reserved for top-level men's bouts, but will it live up to the hype?
Let's take a closer look at the matchup.
At its core, what is most intriguing about Cyborg-Carano is the fact that they are the two best-known female mixed martial artists in this country. Even though 18-0 Japanese star Megumi Fuji has a more valid claim as the world's best female fighter ahead of either Cyborg (7-1) or Carano (7-0), no one doubts the credentials and skills these women bring to the table. Throw in their appealing styles and star power, and you've got a bona fide superfight.
Fittingly, this will be the first women's televised fight ever to ever use five-minute rounds, and contested as a 145-pound title match, it is scheduled for five rounds. Because previous women's fights went three 3-minute rounds, conditioning could play a major role in determining a winner.
For all the questions about Carano's weight issues in the past, she's never weighed in above 144.5, so the weight limit should not be an issue for the American. Cyborg in her last fight, however, missed badly, weighing in at 152.
The 24-year-old Brazilian will have a slight size advantage against Carano, which is something Carano will be forced to deal with for the first time in her recent career. Both she and Cyborg, in fact, have largely faced smaller opponents due to the dearth of quality female fighters. Because of the relatively even size matchup, neither woman will likely be able to overpower the other as they've done to recent opponents.
Cyborg favors the aggressive Chute Boxe style made famous by Wanderlei Silva, and she is in many ways a clone, right down to a similar, wide striking stance. Unafraid to take part in exchanges, Cyborg often tries to avoid any type of groundwork unless she is in a position to ground-and-pound. Faced with submission attempts from the bottom fighter, she often chooses to stand up and invite her opponent back to her feet.
Against Carano, that is a risky proposition. Like Cyborg, she overwhelmingly prefers to stay upright and rely on her muay thai skills and compact punching style. While Cyborg can be goaded into a messy brawl – and some would say she hopes for it – Carano tends to keep her form, even when tiring.
One of Carano's best weapons is her jab, which she sometimes uses to keep her opponent at bay, and other times uses to introduce a scoring combination. She also favors a front kick that does wonders in backing up her opponents. Against Cyborg, it could pay huge dividends in slowing her down. Carano's never had major fatigue issues with three-minute rounds, but like many fighters, occasionally drops her hands late in rounds.
Cyborg, meanwhile, rarely throws jabs, preferring to throw power strikes almost exclusively. Not surprisingly, that often takes a toll on her late in rounds and she has visibly tired in closing moments of rounds, although she does seem to recover well in between. Because of the change to five-minute rounds, it will be interesting to see if she pulls back on her aggression to save energy for what could be a long fight, or if she goes for broke as is her custom.
One place Carano has to be especially careful is with her back against the cage. Cyborg loves to walk her opponents down and back them against the cage before opening up with flurries. Many of her foes have gotten into big trouble this way, and it's led to the end for more than a few.
Both women are passable on the ground , with Cyborg holding a purple belt in jiu-jitsu, but with only one submission win between them (Carano over Tonya Evinger in Sept. 2007), the contest is unlikely to be decided with a tapout. With Randy Couture in her corner, don't be surprised to see Carano try to surprise Cyborg with a takedown here or there to win a close round.
In the end, Cyborg's most dangerous weapon is her aggression. She makes opponents uncomfortable because the next wave of violence is always coming. But Carano has never backed down from that type of fight. And as long as she can withstand the early flurries Cyborg throws, she will have a chance to win the fight in the later rounds if Cyborg tires from the frenetic pace and long rounds.
Cyborg is the betting favorite of most, who have been convinced that she is faster, stronger and has a superior killer instinct, but then again, she is also wilder and has a greater propensity to tire. Due to technical superiority and a seemingly unbreakable will, I'm picking Carano with the upset.