When Cris Cyborg beat Gina Carano on August 15, 2009, it was the biggest night in the history of women's mixed martial arts. But as great a night as that was, there was one clear and immediate problem: What else could top it?
We found out on Saturday night: What could top that night was not another great fight for Cyborg (she's only been in mismatches since then and is currently suspended for using steroids) and not another great fight for Carano (she's making movies and unlikely to fight again). What could top that night was the feeling that there might really be a legitimate division with multiple impressive fighters able to compete in a series of great fights. And that's what the Strikeforce 135-pound women's division gave us on Saturday night.
Ronda Rousey stole the show by submitting Miesha Tate in the main event and winning the Strikeforce women's 135-pound title. But Sarah Kaufman also put together perhaps the best performance on the undercard in her victory over Alexis Davis. Now we'll see a Rousey-Kaufman title fight, and we're starting to see what it looks like when a promotion has a deep women's weight class and can put together multiple high-quality fights in that weight class.
UFC President Dana White's stated opposition to having women in the UFC has always been that there aren't enough good female fighters to put together an entire women's division. And he's had a fair point on that score: As much fan interest as there was in the 145-pound title fight between Cyborg and Carano, Strikeforce never had a deep 145-pound division.
But the 135-pound division in Strikeforce right now really does have enough talent to assemble a full weight class. In addition to Rousey, Kaufman, Tate and Davis, Strikeforce has Amanda Nunes, Julie Kedzie, Germaine de Randamie, Liz Carmouche and the ability to bring in women from other promotions who want to show they're the best in the world at 135 pounds. (I remain hopeful that former champ Marloes Coenen will find herself back in Strikeforce.)
I'm more interested in the Strikeforce women's 135-pound division than I am in the Strikeforce men's 155-pound division, where one fighter stands so far above the rest that there really aren't any good fights for the champion. (More on that in a minute.)
Women's MMA still has a ways to go before it's accepted as broadly as men's MMA, and even though Strikeforce and Showtime deserve all the credit in the world for bringing women's MMA this far, they can do more. (For starters, Showtime announcers Pat Miletich and Frank Shamrock can stop calling the grown women who fight in the cage "girls.") I'd like to see at least one fight in the women's 135-pound division on every single Strikeforce show, until it no longer feels like a big deal when we get big female fights.
But Saturday night did feel like a big deal, and I'm glad it did. Rousey, Tate, Kaufman and Davis stepped up in a big way.
--Strikeforce simply has no lightweight challengers for Gilbert Melendez. The idea that Josh Thomson, who was loudly booed after winning an uninspiring decision on Saturday, and who hadn't won a fight in a year and a half before that, is now the No. 1 contender to Melendez's title is crazy. It's time for Zuffa to either move Melendez to the UFC or move a Top 10 UFC lightweight like Gray Maynard or Clay Guida to Strikeforce so that the best years of Melendez's career aren't wasted on sub-par opponents.
-- I loved the arm-triangle choke that Pat Healy used to submit Caros Fodor. I don't think people realize how good Healy is. He's on a four-fight winning streak and has won seven of his last eight, and over the course of his career he's beaten good fighters like Carlos Condit, Paul Daley, Dan Hardy and Maximo Blanco. I like Healy a lot.
--Jacare Souza offered up a perfectly fine performance against Bristol Marunde, but really, this fight just shouldn't have been booked. Marunde is a 12-7 fighter who had never fought for a major promotion before, and he just didn't belong in the same cage against Jacare. I realize Strikeforce didn't have many options when Jacare's original opponent, Derek Brunson, had to drop out because his vision wasn't good enough, but Zuffa needs to be able to find better late replacements than Marunde.
Mauro Ranallo: "What did you think about your performance tonight?"
Josh Thomson: "It was s--t."
Ranallo: "OK, elaborate. Why do you think it was that bad?"
Thomson: "How else do you explain it was s--t?"
(This may have been my all-time favorite post-fight interview.)
Referee Mark Matheny's second-round stoppage in the Roger Bowling-Brandon Saling fight came at just the right time: In the first round, when Bowling got into a crucifix position and pounded away on Saling, Matheny gave Saling every opportunity to try to defend himself, and eventually Saling got a hold of Bowling around the back of the head and earned the opportunity to finish the round. But at the start of the second round, when Bowling got a crucifix on Saling again, it was clear that Saling was just taking too much punishment to make it through the round, and so Matheny stepped in and stopped it to protect Saling.
There were multiple instances on Saturday night, most notably in the Ryan Couture-Conor Heun fight, when the referees allowed some blatant fence grabs to go by without so much as a warning. Grabbing the fence is a foul, and it needs to be enforced as a foul. MMA referees let it go way, way too much.
Ryan Couture's victory over Conor Heun was by far the best performance of his MMA career. Prior to Saturday night Couture had a record of 3-1, and the three opponents he had beaten had a combined record of 8-8. But Heun is a legitimate opponent who entered the fight with a 9-4 record, and Couture took the fight to Heun, controlling him easily. This was a positive sign that Couture can be a good fighter, and not just a fighter who gets booked because he has a recognizable name.
Scott Smith has been in some of my all-time favorite fights, but he just doesn't have it anymore. Since his great 2009 comeback knockout over Cung Le in 2009, he's gone 0-4 and has looked progressively less impressive with each passing fight. If I were advising Smith I'd tell him he's had a great career, and should bring that great career to an end.
Fight I Want to See Next
Sarah Kaufman vs. Ronda Rousey. Of course.