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Marloes Coenen says why rematch with Cris Cyborg will be different

Esther Lin, Showtime

Marloes Coenen spent three rounds in the cage with Cris Cyborg more than three years ago, and ended up shocked by her opponents’ power, that ultimately, she was unable to deal with.

Still, when the fight was stopped in the third round, Coenen wasn’t happy, feeling that she wasn’t beaten and had plenty left for a late comeback.

"That’s why I’m fighting her again," said the 32-year-old Dutch veteran on the MMA Hour days before Saturday’s battle to determine the first Invicta featherweight champion and in most people’s view, the best female fighter in the world in the weight class. "In the first round, she was breathing very heavily. I was really surprised by that, but she did win. Everybody saw the fight. I didn’t give up, although I lost. I felt like a true fighter. I didn’t give up. The fight after, she fought the blond girl, I don’t know her name (Jan Finney), the female ref, she made the fight go way too long. That was proof they stopped me too soon, and should have given me a second chance."

The rematch headlines the first all-women’s MMA pay-per-view event, starting at 9 p.m. Eastern time from the Ameristar Casino in Kansas City, Mo., available on virtually every system in the U.S. and Canada, priced at $14.95. Coenen and Cyborg are the two best-known active woman fighters outside of the UFC, making it the single biggest fight Invicta could put on. The show will also be available on Internet pay-per-view worldwide.

The fight has the obvious stakes, being the fighter who will be viewed by most fans as the real world champion in the featherweight division. There is also the not-so-obvious stakes.

Right now, the biggest possible match-up in women’s MMA would be Cyborg vs. Ronda Rousey, the UFC’s bantamweight champion. The organizational barriers, the two fighters being under contract to different companies, are not as significant as those that have kept numerous potentially major fights in the sport’s history from taking place.

Invicta and UFC have a strong working relationship. UFC has sent fighters, such as Sarah Kaufman in April, to Invicta shows. Invicta allowed its contracted fighters to try out for the season of The Ultimate Fighter that just completed filming last week, coached by Rousey and Miesha Tate.

But a win by Coenen would change the dynamic completely. If she was to win, she would be in the drivers’ seat about getting a fight that, if it was to take place, would likely be a UFC pay-per-view main event sometime in 2014.
But right now, she can’t think about that.

"At this moment, I’m only thinking about Cris and the belt," Coenen said. "UFC is an amazing organization. But I like Invicta. What I like is they don’t have just one weight class. They have a number of weight classes. They take female MMA very seriously and I respect that."

Coenen’s camp had made it clear to UFC officials when they were putting together their plans that she preferred to fight at 145 pounds. But she is open to going to 135, the only weight class UFC has for women.

Coenen defeated Kaufman on Oct. 9, 2010, to become Strikeforce’s 135-pound champion, a title she retained against Liz Carmouche, and then lost to Tate. Had she beaten Tate, a showdown with Rousey for the title would have been inevitable in 2012.

"I’ll fight at 135 if they give me a big check," she joked. "And then I’ll diet again.

"I think I’m a better fighter at 145," she said. "In Strikeforce, my first fight (against Roxanne Modafferi) was really good. I don’t want to take away from Liz and Miesha (who she fought at 135), she (Tate) beat me, but I wasn’t in the best shape of my life fighting those fights."

Coenen (21-5), who first became a star in Japan at the age of 19 when she won what was billed as the female World Cup tournament, has talked often about the first Cyborg fight, which took place on Jan. 30, 2010, in Sunrise, Fla.

From the moment she first got hit, she realized Cyborg, as Cristiane Justino is better known, was far stronger than she expected.

"Oh yeah, I underestimated her strength," she said. "I thought I could handle that until she punched me in the face. She punched like a guy of 80 kilos, 176 pounds. I’ve never been hit that hard in my life."

It’s statements like that, that Cyborg (11-1, 1 no contest) is more muscular than most male fighters, combined with the positive test for the steroid Stanazolol after a Dec. 17, 2011 fight, that have put a cloud around all of Cyborg’s prior wins and her entire career.

Since breaking into the U.S. scene, brought in by Elite XC in 2008 to set up an ultimate showdown with Gina Carano, Cyborg has run through every opponent inside the cage with little problem.

But between a contract dispute with Strikeforce and a suspension due to the steroid test positive, Cyborg, now 28, has only fought twice in the last three years.

But it’s the steroid question that will dog how Cyborg is viewed, and Coenen is trying to take the diplomatic approach.

"A lot of people ask me that question," she said when asked if she believed Cyborg was on steroids for their 2010 fight. "I have a private opinion, and you can guess what it is. But I don’t want to judge her or kick her again."

Still, for all the talk of Coenen having a lot more fighting experience and arguments that she’s technically better, the strength and ferocity of Cyborg dominated that first fight.

"The difference, I think, is both of these athletes have grown and changed in terms of adding to their skill levels," said Invicta President Shannon Knapp. "They’ve done the dance before. I know Marloes knows what she’s up against this time. I certainly wouldn’t count her out. I’ve watched her and seen her grow as an athlete. I think it’s going to be very competitive. They both want this. Marloes wants to avenge her loss and get the belt. Cris has a weight she’s carrying on her shoulders she wants to get off."

Coenen said there are two key differences. The first is knowing what she’s up against. The second is that she’s trained extensively for strength and conditioning this time as compared to the first fight.

"This time is different," she said. "You’ll see the difference when I step into the cage. I’m bigger and stronger. She’s still really strong, still amazingly strong, but she isn’t the beast she was when I was fighting her a few years ago."

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