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Strikeforce, Showtime Give Female Fighters a Big Stage

When Sarah Kaufman and Takayo Hashi step into the cage at Friday night's Strikeforce Challengers card on Showtime, it will mark the second time that Strikeforce has given the main event to the ladies on a card otherwise made up of male fighters.

The first time -- Gina Carano vs. Cris Cyborg in August -- it felt like a big deal. This time it just feels like the logical fit, as the Kaufman vs. Hashi 135-pound title fight is the best bout on the card. And in a strange way, the fact that Kaufman vs. Hashi isn't such a big deal might be a sign that women's MMA has moved from novelty to widely accepted athletic competition.

"Showtime has been a great platform for the females to be exposed, and they've proven that they're great athletes," said Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker. "Good female fighters are out there. Are there more men? Of course. There are more male fighters than female fighters. But there are great female fighters out there that no one knows about and the platform that Showtime and CBS provide will expose them to a large audience."

The Ultimate Fighting Championship doesn't promote female fights, and that has opened the door to Strikeforce becoming the industry leader for women's MMA. Coker said it hasn't always been easy to find high-quality female fighters, but that he believes his promotion is building quality women's divisions at 135 and 145 pounds.

Toward that end, Strikeforce will launch eight-woman tournaments in those two weight classes this summer, with the winners gettint title shots. Prior to that, Kaufman vs. Hashi will determin the Strikeforce 135-pound champion, and 145-pound champion Cris Cyborg will face Erin Toughill.

"We're going to scour the earth for our tournaments, and the winners will be able to challenge the champions in our 135 and 145-pound weight divisions," Coker said. "Then we're also going to start a 125-pound weight division."

The 125-pound division may include Tara LaRosa, considered by many to be America's best female fighter.

"The reason we didn't have a deal with Tara LaRosa is that we weren't doing fights at 125 pounds," Coker said. "We've been focusing on the 135s and the 145s. When we do 125s, we'd be interested in Tara LaRosa."

For now, Strikeforce has one outstanding female champion in Cyborg, and will add another worthy title holder on Friday night.