MMA: Cristiane Santos
Not necessarily in that order. At least not in terms of degree of difficulty.
The victory was vital, I suppose, but it was also never really in doubt. In practice, the fight turned out to be as lopsided as it looked on paper, which is to say the win was so one-sided that it was almost completely hollow for the former Strikeforce women’s featherweight champion.
Santos dropped Muxlow with her first punch, a straight right that put the replacement fighter, who took the bout on 17 days’ notice, skittering into the frenzied survival mode we so commonly see in Santos' opponents. The rest was essentially cleanup. It took referee John McCarthy 3 minutes, 46 seconds to decide he’d seen enough, but each tick of the clock after that initial salvo felt more gratuitous than the previous. By the time the end came for Muxlow, she was backed up against the cage accepting a series of increasingly inevitable knees and punches and the overriding feeling that swept over us all when Big John stepped in was one of relief for her.
For Santos, we felt only a vague sense of confirmation. Yep, she’s still Cyborg.
Proving that Santos is still the most bloodcurdling figure in women’s MMA was the really essential thing here, because, after nearly 16 months of inactivity owed to a yearlong suspension for a positive steroid test, there were questions about whether she would show up in Kansas City looking as ripped, as relentless and altogether frightening as before. More to the point, because Cyborg still being leaps and bounds ahead of the competition is an integral part of manager Tito Ortiz’s plan to run the longest of long bombs on the UFC.
When Santos and Ortiz very publicly balked at the chance to cut to 135 pounds for an immediate shot at Ronda Rousey’s bantamweight title back in February, instead opting for a much slower burn in Invicta, it prompted copious industry-wide head-scratching. One of those heads belonged to UFC President Dana White, who alternated between describing the Santos-Ortiz negotiating style as “wacky” and “goofy” and then proclaimed Cyborg “pretty much irrelevant” when talks finally appeared to fall apart for good.
Ortiz claims Santos needs a multifight run in Invicta to gradually shed the pounds necessary to safely make the cut to 135. Maybe that’s true, but the perils of this route are obvious. What if something goes wrong, we all asked when the deal was announced. What if she emerges in the Invicta cage looking like something less than the terrifying knockout artist who cut a swath through women’s MMA during seven fights from 2008-11? What if she -- choke, sputter, gasp -- loses?
"She ain't gonna lose ," an ever-confident Ortiz told MMAJunkie.com's Ben Fowlkes when he put voice to these concerns at the time. "You ever sparred with Cris? You ever tried to wrestle with her? Ever watched her wrestle, watched her spar? Have you ever watched her fight?"
Yeah, well, point taken. Never did Ortiz’s long-term plan for Santos’ career feel like less of a gamble than while we were watching her brutalize Muxlow. Granted, the 35-year-old Australian’s prospects were doomed from the moment she agreed to sub in for the injured Ediane Gomes last month, but it must have been reassuring for Ortiz & Co. to get proof that Cyborg can still deal with an overmatched opponent with the kind of extreme prejudice we saw from her against the likes of Jan Finney and Hiroko Yamanaka near the end of her Strikeforce run.
While not a particularly instructive affair, we’re now told the victory sets Santos up for an Invicta 145-pound title bout with Marloes Coenen later this year. Coenen will no doubt be a far more dangerous opponent, albeit one Santos already defeated back in January 2010 and one who had been competing at bantamweight prior to debuting in Invicta. If Cyborg wins that, she’ll have a shiny new belt to match Rousey’s, and it’ll start to feel more and more like Ortiz’s gamble might just pay off after all, giving Santos time to drop the weight while only stoking the fires of interest in a Rousey bout.
Still, let’s not kid ourselves here. Santos and Ortiz are taking tremendous risks each time Santos steps into the Invicta cage. They are still involved in the kind of clunky, long-range scheme that very seldom pays off in a sport this unpredictable.
If you strip away the veneer of dominance and the fearsome power, Cyborg has exactly one thing going for her right now: There are only two real stars in the landscape of female MMA, and, as of this weekend, she’s still one of them. Rousey and the UFC need her (and by extension, Ortiz) as much as the fighter and manager need the fight promotion and its golden girl. Rousey versus Santos is the one truly marketable superfight in women’s fighting at the moment, and no matter how big the honchos at the UFC talk, they’ll still be interested in it if and when Santos decides she’s ready.
But that delicate balance of power evaporates immediately should Cyborg make a misstep in Invicta. All it takes is one lucky punch or a momentary mental lapse on the ground and, suddenly, she’s not the perfect foil for Rousey’s good looks and slick submission game anymore. Suddenly, she’s just a former champion with a positive steroid test and a reputation for difficult negotiations.
If we’ve learned anything from MMA, it’s that the thing that “ain’t gonna” happen, often does, and, afterward, the people who wind up on the short end wish they’d grabbed the brass ring when they had the chance -- instead of putting it off for another day.
HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. -- Cristiane Santos is an equal-opportunity butt-kicker.
The female featherweight star reaffirmed Wednesday, following a two-hour workout at the Punishment Training Center, that she'll fight anyone in a cage so long as they can get licensed by a commission. So Fallon Fox, the male-to-female transgender fighter making so much news lately, has at least one known woman willing to give her a shot.
"She wants to be a girl. I don't agree," said Santos, who for the first time in almost a year and half will return to fighting on April 5. "I think you're born a girl, you're a girl. You're born a guy, you're a guy. But I don't choose opponents. The commission needs to check and make sure she doesn't have testosterone.
"I'm not going to judge other people. If the commission says she can fight, why not?"
The 27-year-old Strikeforce champion tested positive for steroids following her 16-second demolition of Hiroko Yamanaka in December 2011, so that quote will inspire contempt in some people. But that's nothing new for Santos. Because of her muscular build and aggressive fighting style, she's been subjected to cruel, crude name calling throughout her career. She said she understands what Fox must be going through in a world in which everyone with an opinion can have access to the people they're opining about via social media.
"People tell me on Twitter: 'I think you have a d---.' A lot of bad things, they say. I think people have a small mind," Santos said.
"They don't think a girl can punch hard like a man. I think people are ignorant. People are stupid. I don't want to be the same as people who do that."
“Santos, 27, said these sorts of comments, common as they may be, did not cut her down. She has nothing to prove, least of all to people who have never stepped in a cage to get punched in the face for a living.
They don't think a girl can punch hard like a man. I think people are ignorant. People are stupid. I don't want to be the same as people who do that.” -- Cristiane Santos on the bad rap about women's fighting.
This is an attitude she keeps about her career in general.
Ahead of April's debut in Invicta FC against Fiona Muxlow, a late replacement for an injured Ediane Gomes, Santos said she doesn’t “feel I need to prove anything. I think I need to do great work. I want to do a nice fight. Win or lose, there's consequences because all my fights I leave in the hands of God. I need only to train hard and do my best."
Based on Wednesday's session, the training hard part is covered.
Santos hit pads, worked on her wrestling, and benefited from an impromptu sparring session with an experienced amateur Muay Thai fighter visiting from Florida who wished to try her luck against the slugging Brazilian. "Cyborg" obliged, and at various points during their three rounds together made it clear to anyone watching that this could end whenever she wanted it to.
Finding suitable training partners has always been a challenging aspect of Cyborg’s fight preparation. There aren’t many women able or willing to put her through her paces. She’ll spar with men, but sometimes they feel like they need to hold back, even when she begs them not to.
Making weight has been a trying experience as well, and two weeks out from the fight with Muxlow, a 35-year-old Australian jiu-jitsu stylist, that process has already begun, making an already arduous routine “hard and stressful.”
"It's not nice when you change opponents, but when you train hard, injuries happen,” she said. “I understand. But I'm very happy because Invicta tried to get another girl. I'm ready to fight in a lot of situations.”
A month ago, days before Rousey tussled with Liz Carmouche, Santos announced she’d turned down a deal with Zuffa to take a three-fight stint with Invicta. She also had strong words for Rousey, who, it turned out, also excelled as a pay-per-view commodity. Santos watched Rousey-Carmouche from inside the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., and came away impressed with the Olympic judoka.
"I think Ronda was good. Liz Carmouche tried the choke and Ronda showed she can defend. She showed she wants to win,” Santos said. “She did a great job and showed spirit. I think both girls did good work.
"I think in this fight she proved a little bit more. I don't like to say anything about other people, but when you do talk you need to prove it inside the cage. I respect every person that steps in the cage because I know it's not easy."
The UFC wants to pare down its roster, and right now fighters are helping in the quest. Over the past couple of weeks, three more drug tests have come back hot. Alex Caceres for marijuana metabolites. Riki Fukuda for a cocktail of stimulants. Lavar Johnson for elevated testosterone.
It’s always something. Sometimes that something feels like nothing. Sometimes it feels like something.
In these cases, Caceres, a first-time offender, was suspended for six months. Fukuda was cut, not because of the failed drug test, the UFC says, but because he’s on a losing streak. And Johnson was cut due to an unfortunate mixture of both. Before them in recent months were Matt Riddle (marijuana again, cut), Thiago Silva (marijuana, suspended), Stephan Bonnar (steroids again, now retired), Rousimar Palhares (elevated testosterone, suspended), Joey Beltran (steroids, cut), Jake Shields (mystery, suspended) and Thiago Tavares (anabolic steroid, suspended).
Before them were Alistair Overeem, Cristiane Santos, Muhammed Lawal, Rafael Cavalcante and a long ellipses more.
As for Nick Diaz? Let’s just say the colors on the roulette wheel go round and round. He’s a perpetual state of pending.
With all the hype leading up to a fight, drug tests have become the kind of drama that lives on far afterward. And what a word “drugs” has become. If we’re being real, marijuana gets stashed in a fun folder called “recreational,” while steroids and spiked testosterone levels are filed away under “dirty rotten cheats.” One is a form of silly, the other manipulates.
Everybody knows that, right?
Hmm. Problem is that the suspensions (from the commissions) and the general fallout (from the UFC) don’t necessarily discriminate. Illegal is illegal with both parties, though most commissions are consistent (and non-differentiating) with punishment for failed drug tests and the UFC is inconsistent (differentiating but moodily) for them.
The bridge? Maybe UFC vice president of regulatory affairs Marc Ratner, who has begun to point out the folly in sentencing marijuana and PED violators as equals. He spoke up about it at a Nevada State Athletic Commission hearing this week, saying that he “cannot believe a PED and marijuana are treated the same. It does not make sense to the world.”
Ratner is dialed in.
The world has common sense. The world has a loose and general understanding that pot isn’t taken to achieve competitive advantage (and taken seems like such a strange word to use -- who takes pot?), while the other is harmful, dangerous and taken precisely to gain an advantage. Steroid cycles go about outsmarting surveillance systems.
Should they be treated the same? These things aren’t equal. It’s time that the NSAC and other commissions recognize the difference. Same goes for the UFC, which has recently vowed to crack down on PEDs. Granted, so long as marijuana is tested for, fighters should know better than to jeopardize their careers by smoking it. It’s still a dumb move. Should it even be tested for? That’s a different can of worms, and it’s easy to argue no. Right now, though, it is.
And since it is, it’d be nice if the punishment fit the crime for violators. It’s not hard math. PEDs show up for the express purpose of making an impact on fight night. Pot, on the other hand, is incidental. They share the taboo of being banned, but they have extremely different motives.
Those motives are the heart of the matter.
Liz Carmouche is not a can. She is a human being with motivation and drive and a world of dreams that can be realized one weekend late in February. But what happens if she realizes her dreams and beats Ronda Rousey at UFC 157?
What, in this game of four-ounce gloves and four-leaf clovers, happens then?
The vanguards of women's MMA are being stacked up against each other in the old Washington Generals/Harlem Globetrotters dynamic. No, it's not fixed or choreographed, but it's a foregone conclusion that Rousey wins this historical first women's title fight on February 23. Isn't it? It has to be.
There would be no women's MMA in the UFC if Rousey didn't catch Dana White's eye. Her mere arm-barring presence made up for all the red flags that kept it out so long -- namely, the "lack of divisional depth" that White talked about.
Of course, that was all BR (Before Ronda). Now, the depth of one transcendent fighter is enough to fill out a division. It's the wide world of Rousey, and then everybody else. White has made no secret that Rousey is the reason.
That's why it isn't that Carmouche is a can -- it's that they're all aluminum product. Miesha Tate (whom she's already beat), Sara McMann (who is in the on-deck circle) and even Cris "Cyborg" Santos, who is jettisoning herself from the UFC (and can't/won't make 135 pound besides). All of them. This is Rousey's domain. It was her patent. The future of women's MMA is Rousey's burden in the present tense. The pressure is only to win. And preferably to collect a couple more arms along the way, like she's done a million times before (or six, to be exact).
Make no mistake, this is boom or bust.
And if she doesn't win? Well, Seth Petruzelli becomes the second greatest party pooper of all time.
Should Carmouche get her arm raised in Anaheim, this whole thing becomes a Jenga proposition. Rousey, who White admires for being "so nasty, so mean" -- who has broken into larger and more varied media realms than Georges St-Pierre, Anderson Silva and Chuck Liddell combined -- would then slip into more pedestrian ranks. The iconoclast who is potentially inspiring thousands of young girls to give MMA a chance would get hung up in "potentially". I've written in here before that Rousey is the Royce Gracie of WMMA. She's the example of broader possibility.
I still believe that.
But how fast a loss leads the chorus to chants of "you've been exposed", even for those with Olympic medals in judo. How fast those six victories would seem incomplete if upended by a single loss. How shaky the idea of women's MMA in the UFC becomes overnight. How fast the eggs would topple out of that single basket.
And if this is all experimentation, you'd have to wonder how long the experiment goes on -- even with the signings of Tate, Cat Zingano and others to fill in the inaugural bantamweight division.
Carmouche's Marine background is cool. It lends to her no-nonsense pluck. That she's the UFC's first openly gay fighter is admirable and perfect for narrative. She's nice, genuine, sincere -- there's not a bad thing you can say about her. But "Girl-Rilla" Carmouche as champion? What on John Moraga's green earth would the UFC do then? The most marketable fight for Carmouche at that point would be a rerun of Rousey (because surely the first fight would have been an aberration). Beyond that, it's just a bunch of jacks scattered on the linoleum. Or Jills, as it were.
In any case, it's an awful lot riding on a single fight -- this is a crossroads bout right out of the gate.
Yet it's not Carmouche's place to contemplate the aftermath. It's her job to win, even if that means dealing an indirect blow to the thing that she's fighting for. That's a unique mission. It's at least her job to go down swinging, as that's the scenario we've grown most comfortable imagining. Carmouche volunteered herself for this piece of historic martyrdom. We like that. We expect her to go down valiantly.
But man, can you imagine if things don't go to expectation?
Don’t expect to satisfy that craving you have for a super fight between UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey and former Strikeforce featherweight titleholder Cristiane Santos.
"Cyborg" Santos’ manager, former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz, said Friday that his client has requested her release from UFC.
“Right now we’re actually waiting for UFC to release her,” Ortiz said during an appearance on "Inside MMA."
“[UFC] gave an offer; I went to Cyborg and she didn’t want to do it, so we asked for her release. Since they’re not having a 145-pound weight class, what else can they do?”
Ortiz claims that UFC will release Santos, but the promotion has yet to publicly reveal its decision on the matter. During her time as Strikeforce featherweight champion, Santos was regarded as the world’s best female mixed martial artist. Her bout with fan favorite Gina Carano in August 2009 for the inaugural Strikeforce women's featherweight title was the most anticipated fight in women’s mixed martial arts history. Santos defeated Carano by first-round TKO.
She would successfully defend the 145-pound belt three times, but after her final defense against Hiroko Yamanaka on Dec. 17, 2011, Santos tested positive for a banned substance. Santos, who beat Yamanaka by first-round TKO, was suspended by the California State Athletic Commission for one year.
While Santos was sidelined, Rousey was supplanting her as the best female fighter on the planet. Strikeforce was also in the process of going out of business.
After Strikeforce’s final event on Jan. 12, all of its fighter contracts were picked up by UFC -- including Santos’ contract. UFC, under the Zuffa regime, had never promoted a women’s bout. But the promotion opted to create a women’s bantamweight division, based primarily on the growing popularity of Rousey, who is 6-0 as a professional. Rousey is scheduled to defend her title on Feb. 23 against Liz Carmouche at UFC 157 in Anaheim, Calif.
With Rousey expected to survive Carmouche, UFC president Dana White has talked openly of a potential high-profile fight between his bantamweight champion and Santos. But Santos has repeatedly balked at the idea of dropping 10 pounds to face Rousey. The UFC does not have a featherweight division or any other weight class for women, besides bantamweight.
And White has stated a fight between Rousey and Santos must be for the 135-pound title; he isn’t interested in a catch-weight bout. But during a UFC 156 prefight Q&A session with media members on Jan. 31, White softened his stance on the issue.
“It’s not a title fight,” White said. “If that’s what [Santos] is willing to do, go to 140, let Ronda defend her title a few times and see if Ronda wants to go to 140.
“If I know Ronda, she probably will anyway. Let’s see what happens.”
It’s been more than a week since White made that comment, but Santos has yet to be convinced that a 140-pound fight with Rousey is in the cards anytime soon. So she wants out of UFC.
“For her to get down to 135 pounds is physically impossible,” Ortiz said. “For a man, it’s different because we have a lot more water weight to take off.
“For Cris Cyborg to get down to that weight, she’s going to be 3 to 4 percent body fat. She wants to start a family later on, she wants to have kids.”
In just six professional fights, Ronda Rousey has taken the world of women’s MMA by storm.
A 2008 Olympic bronze medalist in judo, Rousey (6-0) defended her Strikeforce women’s bantamweight title against former champion Sarah Kaufman in just 54 seconds. Each of her professional fights has ended in first-round submission by armbar, including all three of her amateur bouts.
Rousey sat down with ESPN.com during a recent visit to the Bristol, Conn., headquarters to talk about how her life has changed outside of the cage, and what she hopes to accomplish inside of it.
You’ve become the face of women’s MMA in a very short period of time. Was there a specific moment when it hit home just how famous you’ve become?
I try not to think about the expectations and the pressure and just try and do my job the best that I can. But me and my friend were walking around Whole Foods; I always make fun of him because he thinks everyone is [someone famous.] Our thing to do is say, “Ooh, is that so and so? Is that Jamie Lee Curtis? Is that Christina Aguilera’s ex-husband?” We’d always play that game and say, “Oh look, it’s Fabio!” and play spot the celebrity. Then one day I got spotted at Whole Foods and we suddenly just looked at each other like, “Oh my God! I’m that guy at Whole Foods. I’m the dude!” That was when it really hit us. We got Whole Foods recognition. Hell yeah!
Has it surprised you how quickly you’ve destroyed the competition? Is there a part of you that almost welcomes some adversity just to see how you would respond?
No. I’m happy with the way things have been going. I expect a lot out of myself and I knew I was capable of doing this well. I knew watching women’s MMA for the first time that I could armbar all of these women right away. I swear. And everyone was like, “You’re crazy. You don’t know about the striking.” And I told them to just watch. The very first fight I watched I knew I could beat all of these girls just doing judo and nothing else. It’s when I started coming into MMA and learned the striking and all of that, I found out there was a lot more to this sport than I originally saw. I’m not surprised at my success now. I was prepared for more. Every time I go to a fight, I am prepared for the worst-case scenario. It’s just that I have a very good camp and we do all of our work before the fight. We prepare very well and I go in there completely capable of beating these girls right away or completely capable of going five rounds.
The armbar has become your signature finishing move, sweeping women’s MMA with the same impact as Royce Gracie’s rear-naked choke in the early days of the UFC. Has this been by design or has the opportunity simply presented itself each fight?
No, it just opens up. I literally make up everything as it goes along in the fight. For every action that I do, I feel like I have memorized every possible reaction to it. I’m like constantly ticking down options in my head. So when I’m going for a trip in the beginning, I’m not thinking about an armbar, only what my options are to react in that moment.
You recently called out Cris “Cyborg” Santos -- even calling her “Cyroid” -- and have been outspoken about her recent failed drug test. How much of what she has accomplished do you believe has been artificially enhanced?
I believe all of it has been artificial. You don’t see athletes have successful careers and then suddenly start doping in their prime. Why would they do something like that? The people that dope are a certain kind of people that have a certain kind of mentality and it really just comes from insecurity and thinking that they’re not good enough without it. There’s nothing that’s going to suddenly change a person’s mindset in the middle of their career. Either you have that mindset or you don’t. I feel like if you are a doper, than you are always a doper. I have never tried any performance-enhancing drug in my life. Ever. And there is nothing that can change my mind about that. People that are inclined to do things like that are always inclined to do things like that. It’s not like there is some switch that makes you decide to be a cheater someday.
Santos said she is unable to make 135 pounds, but would be willing to drop down to 140 in order to meet you in the cage. Would you accept the fight at anything other than the bantamweight limit?
I don’t owe her anything and I think it’s wrong to reward someone like that with a title fight and with all of the considerations they want after they disgrace the sport and their country like that. If, while she was doping, she could get down to 145, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that if she’s not doping, she could be lighter. When have you ever heard of somebody taking a bunch of steroids and then stopping and maintaining the same muscle mass? It’s a flawed argument. She’s come into fights overweight and comes into fights on steroids. She obviously has no respect for the people she is fighting. She’s never had a fair fight once in her life and I’m going to put my foot down once and for all and give her a fair fight. I can see why she is scared to death with it and completely against it. I’m the strongest competitor that she’s ever going to come across. She’s not going to have any of those advantages. For someone to be so mentally weak that they need to do that to get by, of course she is going to do everything she can to resist it. It’s going to reveal her as the fraud that she truly is.
A fight between the two of you would easily be one of the most anticipated in the sport. How would you plan on dealing with her relentless striking?
Cris “Cyborg” is not a technical striker. The way that she strikes plays very well into my style of fighting. When she fought Gina [Carano], she got mounted three times in a round. She’s very wild and just uses a lot of strength. But all of the principles of judo is using the strength and momentum of a person against them. So a lot of times, the more that she is flailing around and resisting, the more that it is going to help me out. I don’t feel like she has the awareness of distance or is technical enough and I intend to piss this girl off so much that there’s no way in God’s green earth that she is going to be able to have any kind of game plan. She is just going to come in there and see red and I’ll be in there calm, cool and collected.
It seems that athletes get into combat sports for different reasons, from the money and fame to the pure addiction of competition. Why does Ronda Rousey fight for a living?
I think it’s just that this is what I was born to do. I tried getting away from judo and bartending for a while and being normal. It just wasn’t for me. I’m not the kind of person that was meant to sit behind a desk. Even in school, it just wasn’t my environment. I need to be the running, jumping and climbing trees kind of person. After the Olympics, you get used to this lifestyle of being pushed to the absolute extremes in the emotional and physical spectrum all of the time. If you start living at a plateau, it doesn’t feel right anymore. So I feel like this is the only way that I can feel like I can make sense of the world. I feel like it’s more pure. This is real people, real interactions and real fights instead of dealing with office politics. Or having a boss or a co-worker you don’t like, but you never get to say anything about it. Instead you are just like sitting in traffic and yelling at everyone around you from inside your car, but when you are actually face-to-face with people you can’t say what is on your mind. Everything is just so calculated all of the time in the outside world; I get to be so much more real and myself in this setting and not be blamed or punished for it.
You’ve been very open in the past about the impact of losing your father at a young age. What do you think he would say about all that you have accomplished today?
I think he would be tripping out over it. When I first started swimming, he bought a swimming handbook and read all the rules about swimming. He would sit there for every practice and watch me and he would get super into it. So I imagine if he was around right now that he would buy every book on MMA and [be] researching it and coming to all of the training. He would be totally all about it and would be extremely proud.
Rousey has gnarled the limbs of every woman put in front of her and used them as dusters to clean out Strikeforce’s 135-pound division. “Cyborg” treated Jan Finney like a ragdoll for eight sadistic minutes, until Kim Winslow -- the third woman in the cage -- finally signaled the copter.
But here’s the crux: If the divisions were deep, there would be no Jan Finney as challenger. And there would be at least a contrarian outcry about putting together the 145-pound champion and the 135-pound champion, not seeing the point of two crescendos coming together.
Instead, it’s the only fight that looks right. Better yet, it’s the only fight that looks colossal, intriguing and positively “must see.” Rousey is the true crossover artist in the fight racket right now. She is the Royce Gracie of women’s MMA, and there are plenty of unsuspecting girls wondering if they could do what she’s doing. This is how it starts. Ask any number of fighters on the UFC’s roster how they decided to make a living trading punches and they cite watching skinny, unassuming Gracie at UFC 1.
That’s where women’s MMA is at. Right around UFC 1, when depth wasn’t a concern but curiosity was.
Rousey, like Gracie, is a link to possibility. She’s a slightly shy, at times audacious blonde who makes fighting look easy. So easy that she can break limbs quicker than she can a sweat. That’s what happens when you wake up defending your mother’s armbars in lieu of an alarm clock.
The bottom line is, there's nothing but fresh captivation going on with Rousey.
And right now, with Santos serving out a suspension for anabolic steroids, there’s an antihero out there. She’s 10 pounds heavier, and 100 pounds meaner, but “Cyborg” is the Ken Shamrock of UFC 1. If the fight is made, Rousey should come out in train formation, arms on Manny Gamburyan’s shoulders, wearing the Gi.
All of this plays into the bigger picture, which is that Rousey inspires interest and crossover appeal in ways that the UFC can’t. No matter how much you stick Georges St. Pierre or Jon Jones on television, the idea of pugilistic men not only predates civilization, it’s always been a very real niche within it.
Rousey isn’t the barrier jumper for women in combat sports, but she could be the one who makes girls conscious of crossing the bigger barrier still. The one that goes: “That could be me.”
In fact, at the UFC 150 pre-fight news conference, when the UFC’s Jon Anik opened the floor to the public, it was a group of teenage girls who asked most of the questions. One prefaced her question with, “I’ll be the first woman to fight in the UFC ...” That’s an evolved attitude, and Rousey is helping with the inroads that something so far-fetched is now at least possible.
Of course, there’s more. Part of Rousey’s appeal is that she doesn’t show the toil. There isn’t any cauliflower on her ears, no thick leathery brow that looks like it could stop buckshot. She shows up and leaves in mint condition. And because she’s been so dominant in her night job, she’s popping up on Conan O’Brien and on the cover of magazines. There’s no bigger intrigue in MMA right now. Not in terms of communicating with the general public, anyway. For all of the discussion of the UFC on Fox’s crossover potential, Rousey need only torque an opponent’s arm and then smile.
That’s why a fight with “Cyborg,” should they work out the weight barrier, becomes the biggest fight in women’s MMA history. Yes, Rousey’s defended her title only once and has a grand total of nine fights. But it’s all the young benefactors out there contemplating a judo class. It’s all the impressionable minds, like the ones that watched the VHS of Gracie beating Shamrock and ended up either a fan, or a practitioner.
That transcends the lack of divisional depth in women’s MMA. In fact, Rousey is very directly addressing the issue each time she fights.
That’s her word: "eliminated."
This according to the former Strikeforce women’s featherweight champion herself in a video statement released this week, roughly 10 days before she’ll appeal a one-year suspension for a positive drug test after her Dec. 17 win over Hiroko Yamanaka at an event in San Diego.
As mea culpa videos go, this one is actually pretty good. A genuinely remorseful-sounding Cyborg acknowledges her mistake, says she knows it is her responsibility to monitor the supplements she takes during training and references the hit to her reputation in the wake of the positive test.
Her words are obviously scripted, but don’t come off overly rehearsed. She doesn’t read from a prepared statement; at least, not one we can see. In any case, she speaks for a little less than three minutes and since it’s all in Portuguese with English subtitles, it ultimately might be difficult for non-speakers of that language to gauge her sincerity.
Even if the video itself is well done though, the content essentially falls back on the same familiar and well-worn tropes we’ve been hearing since Major League Baseball’s steroid scandal put performance enhancing drugs front and center more than a half decade ago.
Santos says she has never knowingly used steroids and points to her track record of passing commission administered drug tests as proof.
Sounds familiar, right?
She blames an unidentified member of her camp for supplying her with a substance “that was supposed to help [her] lose weight” and appears as surprised as everyone else that she came back positive for “steroid metabolites” consistent with stanozolol, a drug linked to some of professional sports’ highest profile PED scandals.
“I have eliminated certain people from my training camp,” Santos says. “I am taking monthly drug tests at the same laboratory that the [California State Athletic Commission] uses to show that I do not take steroids.”
As explanations like this so often do, things take on an unmistakable cloak and dagger vibe. Hard not to, with verbiage like that.
Is Santos being honest? In 2012 it doesn't really matter, as very few people will believe her, no matter what.
The unnamed traitor in Cyborg’s camp now joins Alex Rodriguez’s conniving cousin, Manny Ramirez’s prescription-happy doctor and Barry Bonds’ “flaxseed oil” peddling trainer, Greg Anderson, on the list of people who have allegedly tricked unsuspecting pro athletes into taking performance enhancing drugs.
For years, in fact, we’ve heard wild tales of shadowy, mostly anonymous third parties scoring totally unknown and unrequested “supplements” for their talented friends and family members. Whether consciously or not, the athletes in these situations paint themselves as naive and trusting patsies who simply wash down or inject whatever they’re given without ever thinking to ask what it is or to wonder if there might later be a problem.
Of course, this line of defense leaves only two options: Either the athlete is lying or the athlete is not the sharpest knife in the drawer.
Just in case it’s the latter -- just in case Santos is telling the truth -- here is a training tip for all you professional athletes out there, from a guy who earns his living pushing keys and making phone calls and who, just a week shy of turning 34, feels like he could really use a Manny Ramirez-style doctor's note right about now: If someone you’re later not willing to name provides you with a mysterious substance they claim will magically cure what ails you, don’t take it.
And if you do take it, don’t bother trying to explain -- or appealing your steroid suspension.
These days we know better.
With all the benefits of hindsight, it’s clear that both Carano and Santos were always too limited to truly be the transformative figures the sport needed them to be. Now, their failures -- if you want to call them that -- have given way to a new torchbearer, one that so far seems better equipped to wear the crown than either of her predecessors.
Women's MMA's new "it" fighter, of course, is Ronda Rousey. She seized that mantel with her 135-pound title win over Miesha Tate on Saturday, giving fans plenty of reasons to hope that female fighting is finally about to find its stride.
Carano may have had good looks and skills enough to advance to a 7-0 record in Stikeforce and EliteXC, but for her, there was always something missing. Looking back, her moniker as “the face of women’s MMA” maybe should have been instructive that her heart wasn't really in it. Carano appealed to the sport’s male-dominated fanbase, but she repeatedly had trouble making weight, fought only sparingly between 2007-09 and by the time Hollywood came calling with movie offers she already had one foot out the door after her August 2009 loss to "Cyborg."
In nearly every way, Santos seemed like the anti-Carano. For her, heart and motivation were never at issue and her three-year run through the sport’s upper echelon can most accurately be described as a reign of terror. “Cyborg’s” sheer ferocity -- which frankly may never be equaled -- made her a marketable star, but it wasn't as if the audience (either male or female) could ever relate to her. She was dominant almost to a fault and for the most part, people tuned in to her fights just to see what hapless challenger would be fed to her next.
When Santos proved unworthy by testing positive for steroids in the wake of her 16 second brutalization of Hiroko Yamanaka in December, well, let’s just say nobody was shocked.
Now comes Rousey, who arrived seemingly out of nowhere during the last year to become women's MMA’s newest top gun. With the sport still mired in a critical point in its development, her task will be similar to the one previously entrusted to Carano and Santos: Prove that female fighters deserves to share the stage on equal footing with their male counterparts.
So far, it's been an uphill battle. Zuffa bigwigs are holding fast to claims that there isn't enough talent in the women's ranks to include them in the UFC proper, though company president Dana White appeared to be warming ever so slowly to the idea when he admitted he too was pretty excited to see the Tate-Rousey fight.
Indeed, if the task at hand is still to bring women’s MMA into favor with mainstream fight fans, you couldn’t ask for a much better emissary than Rousey.
She combines the innate marketability possessed by Carano with the in-ring tenacity displayed by “Cyborg.” In fact, she goes one better than those two ever could, tying it all together with her amateur background as an Olympic medalist in Judo.
Perhaps most importantly, Rousey seems to understand the concept of selling a fight better than any female fighter before her. She essentially talked her way into her title match with Tate, using a torrent of trash talk the likes of which we've never seen in women's MMA to leapfrog former champion Sarah Kaufman on the contender list. Once there, she showed she was indeed ready, catching Tate in a grisly arm bar during the final minute of the first round.
It's highly possible that when we look back, we'll remember Rousey's championship victory as the moment female MMA really turned a corner, finally found the proper star that could push it to new heights. Either that, or we'll learn Rousey is flawed in some way and, like Carano and Santos before her, she'll prove incapable of carrying the weight of an entire division. So far though, she seems up to the challenge.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the new 135-pound champion and women's MMA's previous stars is this: In retrospect, both Carano and Santos feel like attractions. Rousey feels like a fighter.
Somehow, that's seems like an important distinction.
COLUMBUS -- Heading into the fight, Strikeforce’s women’s bantamweight champion Miesha Tate said that wrestling trumps judo nine out of 10 times. She was speaking from experience, and experience also happened to be an x-factor against an opponent with only two minutes, 18 seconds of cage time. Experience was also supposed to trump a green challenger.
Funny how the fight game works.
By the time it was over, Ronda Rousey proved more than ready to bust theories, and if need be, the more experienced fighter’s arm. In what was being hailed as the biggest women’s MMA event since Gina Carano versus Cristiane Santos, Rousey emerged as a star in just her fifth fight, while proving that she could back up the audacity of her prefight talk.
Rousey submitted Tate the same way she did her previous four opponents -- via a first-round armbar. And, though she more than doubled her total time in the cage this time out, it was again the judo that delivered her to the moment. Rousey used a brilliant hip toss to get Tate down, transitioned to mount, and then punched away until she could pry the arm away to set up her signature submission. The crowd at Nationwide Arena cringed as she hyper-extended the limb into an unnatural position, torquing it for the tap. It finally came at the 4:36 mark of the first round.
And even though you’d have trouble finding a list of big viable challenges for Rousey right this second, she became the future of women’s MMA with a clear-cut challenge ahead in Sarah Kaufman, who won an equally memorable back-and-forth war with Alexis Davis. With Santos’ suspension, the retirement of Carano and the state of women’s MMA in flux, this played out as the best-case scenario for Strikeforce.
Or as a case of perseverance, to hear Strikeforce president Scott Coker tell it.
“Strikeforce has been supportive of female mixed martial arts since 2006 when we started,” he said during the postfight news conference. “Gina Carano versus Elaina Maxwell in December of ’06 was the first [female MMA] fight that was licensed in the state of California. We’ve always believed in female martial arts fighting. Before that we were a kickboxing league.
“We had many great fights in the female division and, personally, for myself, I believe these ladies that grew up in a martial arts school, or in a wrestling program, they should always be allowed to compete. And I think tonight justifies those feelings of the past. And we talk about fighting at the highest level, I think tonight we saw it. We had four amazing athletes fighting in the female division at the highest level. And we’re going to continue moving forward. I think a star was born tonight, and it’s onward and forward for the female division.”
Afterward, Rousey dedicated her new 135-pound title to her late father. Yet when asked if she could quash her beef with Tate, which reached a crescendo at the weigh-ins when Rousey headbutted Tate, she chose not to. In regard to the armbar that looked like it did some serious damage, she said, “I don’t feel bad about it,” which sent the crowd into raptures. Part of the reason Rousey got a title shot in the first place was by telling it like it is and causing waves in the media. She wasn’t about to back down after achieving her goal as being a champion at 25 years old.
And it looked like she might end the fight as early with an initial armbar attempt.
“I didn’t feel like I really had it,” she said. “The second [armbar attempt], I knew for sure I could get it, and that’s why I abandoned the dominant position. The first one I just kind of fell into it; it didn’t feel that secure.”
Now the new champion can set her sights on former champion Kaufman, who has contended all along that it’s still her belt. Just as you’d expect, she already thinks she spots a weakness in Rousey’s game.
“I thought overall that Ronda looked good,” Kaufman said. “There’s definitely something’s that she doesn’t like that I do really well. It’s going to present a really interesting fight and a really good fight for the fans and for myself as well.”
Asked to elaborate, she added, “clearly I like to strike ... and based on my face, I also like to get hit. But Ronda hasn’t been challenged by somebody who can strike like I am able to strike.”
It was a good night for women’s MMA, and everybody involved knew it. The women stole the show in Columbus, and a star was born in Ronda Rousey.
That we were assured this week by the MMA landscape’s primary architect. And when UFC President Dana White makes bold statements, we’ve grown accustomed to believing them. As Strikeforce unveils its latest incarnation in 2012, prelims will be aired, the heavyweight division and Challengers series will soon be things of the past and the overall production will be improved with a UFC-style facelift.
"Just sit and wait and watch what I do,” White has promised.
What White does will undoubtedly be good for much of the Strikeforce roster and maybe most significantly for female fighters, who now have a solid place to ply their trade for at least another year. Yet, even as the once-struggling promotion races to evolve into something more, MMA fans will want to invest their increasingly precious time in, one of the trickiest questions remains: Can Strikeforce please find some competition for Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos?
After an awkward 18-month period where the organization and its 145-pound champ couldn’t find common ground on what the best fighter in women’s MMA ought to be paid, “Cyborg” returns this weekend to re-stake her claim as the division’s most destructive and compelling force. She’ll do it against an opponent everyone expects her to walk through and in front of a backdrop where promotional brass still struggle to find her convincing foils.
Not their fault, really. “Cyborg” is just that good; obviously the most dominant champion remaining on Strikeforce’s roster. Even the extraordinary Gilbert Melendez is more vulnerable by comparison.
That’s probably the best explanation for why, even with a year and a half to game plan for it, Santos’ Strikeforce comeback this weekend in San Diego reads as yet another squash match.
Make no mistake, Hiroko Yamanaka is no slouch. Several sites see her as the No. 2 fighter in the women’s featherweight division. She’s amassed a 12-1 record fighting in Japan, comes in with a considerable height advantage and could be the best we could hope for in Santos’ first fight back. That said, it only speaks to “Cyborg’s” dominance that Yamanaka will currently fetch adventurous gamblers the opportunity for more than a 5-1 return on an investment in her at the sportsbook.
Few stand to be foolhardy enough to make one, as it seems inconceivable that the challenger could be prepared for the juggernaut she’ll face this weekend. Instead, it’s unilaterally assumed that Santos’ most dangerous foe will be ring rust, after going off the radar in the wake of an ugly beatdown of Jan Finney in June 2010.
Yamanaka may be able to make things look more respectable than “Cuddles” did, at least. Then again, what’s considered success for Santos’ opponents at this point? Not getting completely mauled? Making it to the third round? Emerging with the bones in your face in roughly the same place as when you started?
No, a Yamanaka victory would be one of the most shocking things that could happen on Saturday night, and if women’s MMA is going to stick around long enough to eventually reach its full potential, it needs to aspire to better than that. Miesha Tate, Ronda Rousey and Sarah Kaufman are off to a nice start at 135 pounds, but for female fighting to truly flourish, someone needs to come along who can push the division’s best fighter.
It probably won’t be Yamanaka, but if there is a 145-pound woman walking the earth somewhere who can give “Cyborg” a fight, this “new” Strikeforce would do well to find her. And quick.
Not sure what we’re waiting for, exactly. A press release? An official time of death? Strikeforce to begin literally selling the office furniture, like IFL executives did before that league shuttered its doors in 2008?
In reality, while we all sit poised for some kind of dramatic conclusion, the end could come much more quietly for Strikeforce. Even as the company unflinchingly prepares to hold the semifinal round of its heavyweight grand prix tournament next weekend in Ohio and as promotional officials steadfastly refuse to acknowledge that anything might be amiss, it’s getting harder and harder to ignore the fact that the UFC’s absorption of Strikeforce has already begun.
As soon as Dan Henderson and Alistair Overeem actually get around to putting pen to paper on the Zuffa paperwork, it will mean the UFC has softly suckered away three of Strikeforce’s five male champions during the last few months. We already know that Nick Diaz will fight Georges St. Pierre later this year and though Henderson and Overeem officially remain unsigned, reports out this week indicate Overeem is already talking with Las Vegas-area gyms about moving his training camp there to prepare for his Octagon debut, and that Hendo was at least briefly considered for the main event for the UFC’s upcoming network television debut.
As former Strikeforce PR Director Mike Afromowitz told Sherdog.com this week: The writing is on the wall.
Once the UFC has Henderson and Overeem, what’s left to do? Not much, other than scoop up Gilbert Melendez, Ronaldo Souza and any other stragglers the big show thinks might be useful as their contracts come due. Melendez signed a new “multi-fight” deal with Strikeforce in February, but is scheduled to complete the second bout on it against Jorge Masvidal on Dec. 17. Souza, far and away the quietest of Strikeforce’s titlists, will take on Luke Rockhold next weekend in Cincinnati. In other words, it won’t be long now.
And, in fact, this is exactly how they told us it would go. All along, the UFC has said it would wait for fighters’ Strikeforce contracts to lapse and then negotiate with them one by one. Perhaps a climactic mass exodus like the one we saw with the WEC in January was never in the cards here. Maybe it was even a little naive of us to think that at some point, UFC brass would throw up their hands and say, “You got us, we’re closing Strikeforce.”
At some point, certainly, the other shoe will drop on the smaller promotion. You could argue it has already outlived its usefulness to Zuffa, so eventually the shades will get pulled down, a press release will be issued and retrospective pieces will be written. At this stage, though, it’s starting to look like the end will be a slow grind rather than a smokey burnout.
Who knows, perhaps right up until the day the pink slips are issued, Strikeforce officials will continue to insist they’re still going to find a fight for Cristiane Santos, that they’re still “in talks” with Henderson and that they’re just waiting for the “right timing” to crown new champions in the heavyweight, light heavyweight and welterweight divisions.
Somehow, that would seem strangely appropriate.
Plus, how bleak are things for women's MMA when the only ring Cristiane Santos has appeared in as of late is of the WWE variety? And what's Jon Jones doing, now that he has all this free time?
• Jones finds ways to stay busy
• Unfinished business for Santiago
• Ivan Salaverry hopes to stick around a while
• Wanted: a home for Aldo versus Mendes
• Unwanted: Cyborg Santos?
• UFC eyes hot-spot destinations
Nick Diaz is not a knockout artist in any traditional sense: You don't need to fear a lunch box of a hand crashing into your temple. What Diaz does instead is arguably more impressive: Instead of connecting once, he transmits force over and over and over again -- 95 times in the first round alone against Marius Zaromskis on Saturday. If the first 10 don't wear on you, the next 85 will.
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Diaz's evolution from a pestering striker with a black belt reserve to a genuinely threatening combination artist has been fascinating to watch. Western boxing has had a tradition of being the most criminally under-represented element in MMA. Part of the blame lies in the ineffectual nature of a boxing stance -- feet planted -- which will get you kicked or swept into a coffin; part of it is just the handyman nature of the sport and the limited time afforded to any one element.
Diaz is by no means a striker who can step into a boxing ring, a suggestion made -- hopefully in jest -- by commentator Mauro Ranallo on Saturday night. By boxing's standards, he is eccentric at best. But in a sport in which bad boxing is the only kind being practiced, eccentric is enough.
Next for Diaz: Likely a long-overdue bout with Jay Hieron, but there's more suspense in a rematch with pro boxer K.J. Noons, who busted Diaz badly in a 2007 bout. Is Noons willing to go to 170 to try it again?
Next for Herschel Walker: Eating up the incoming praise for being a 47-year-old who just went three rounds in his MMA debut without dropping dead from exhaustion. (That's a feat more accomplished heavyweights can't manage.) Opponent Greg Nagy looked to have been enlisted from the morgue, but Walker showed poise and athletic ability that makes him one of MMA's better curiosities. His is the kind of fame that could make David "Tank" Abbott or Ken Shamrock employable again.
Next for Bobby Lashley: Strikeforce is running out of gift-wrap and giving him someone to measure his skills against. Even Mike Kyle would be welcome at this point, but Brett Rogers in an eliminator for Fedor Emelianenko is a sound plan in the absence of Alistair Overeem.
The Gloria Steinem award: Mauro Ranallo, for suggesting that Marloes Coenen's foot stomps on Santos were attributable to a dislike "of her nail polish."
The Blair Witch award: Strikeforce, for either losing or simply not soliciting footage of Dream athletes Marius Zaromskis and Melvin Manhoef -- footage that would have gone a long way in promoting the athletic muscle spasms of these two for clueless Western audiences.
The Hulkamania award: Wes Sims, for trying to bait Lashley with a "test of strength" in the opening moments of their bout. Attempts to execute a Boston Crab were less successful.
The casual-fan-thinks-Mac-Danzig-lost-weight award: Zaromskis.
The HolyGodCanYouBelieveThat award: Manhoef, for smacking Lawler with such ferocious power in his low kicks that Lawler's leg would pivot up like a ballerina's.
Q: Do promotional exchanges work?
A: In their starry-eyed optimism, Dream officials may have believed they were sending Zaromskis and Manhoef on bombing missions to the States. Instead, both men were wrecked by fighters belonging to Strikeforce. And if Zaromskis had happened to win the welterweight title, it could've been several months before he came back around to defend it.
Co-promotion is a noble idea, but what's good for fans isn't necessarily good for business. And if it's not good for business, that business might not last. If Strikeforce insists on these matches, the introduction of a separate world title might be in order.
Q: What will it take to beat Santos?
A: At this point, an athlete loading her gloves with birdshot would still only be a 50/50 proposition against Santos, a woman who can take a punch to deliver three of her own. Controlling her in the clinch or on the ground seems impossible. What's the solution?
In looking at the beginning of the end for Wanderlei Silva, another Chute Boxe savage, Ricardo Arona had to stifle his violence by pinning Silva's back to the ground. No one in Strikeforce's current 145-pound division seems capable of doing that to Santos. Instead, it might be worthwhile to gauge the interest of female Olympic wrestlers: Irina Merleni won the first women's gold medal at the 2004 Games.
Men's MMA changed dramatically with the introduction of amateur grapplers. It might be time for the female division to experience the same evolution.
Q: What do you do with Walker?
A: Signing an ex-football player flirting with 50 to a fight contract is stunt casting at its worst. But someone forgot to tell Walker he was supposed to be a punch line: The former NFL standout displayed poise and athleticism lost on some lumbering heavyweights half his age. And he pulled off the neat hat trick of being gracious and ingratiating during promotion while looking like someone shot his dog once he got in the cage.
Walker is a fun distraction from the main business of title contention. So long as he's treated as such, his participation is welcome.
This and that
• Talking to Fanhouse, Strikeforce president Scott Coker floated Hayato Sakurai as a possible contender for Diaz's 170-pound welterweight title. Sakurai is good, but his best years are in the rearview. Coker also mentioned Shinya Aoki's looming shot against Gilbert Melendez, which would steal any show it's held on.
• MMAJunkie.com learned that Walker was paid "six figures" for the Greg Nagy demolition, which Walker intends to donate to charity.
• EA Sports drew heat for an inability to successfully stream the Jay Hieron/Joe Riggs undercard bout at EASports.com prior to the start of the live telecast. As promising as Internet-on-Demand video seems, it's still at the whim of broadband capacity and glitch-infested PC headaches.
In arranging 20 cards (or more) per year, the UFC has adopted a schedule that doesn't make many allowances for "event" programming: it has become a sports league with no offseason. To satisfy that glut of airtime, more than a few events wind up having only one or two fights that really adrenalize audiences.
Strikeforce is a company without the roster depth to manage that kind of volume, and there are times when fans may feel better off for it. Saturday's Showtime broadcast from Miami features four genuinely compelling fights squeezed together, one after the other, and a solid argument that any one of them could be worth the entire ticket price. It creates a sense of elevation that has been largely absent in MMA over the past several months. A good fight show should mimic the anticipatory pleasure of a good movie or book.
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That kind of substance is dying out, unfortunately. Strikeforce has made noise about wanting to run a schedule similar to the UFC's, and cards like this one can't possibly survive in that environment.
I think that might be pre-emptive nostalgia, which makes no sense. Then again, neither does Mauro Ranallo.
What: "Strikeforce: Miami," a 12-bout card from the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla.
When: Saturday, 10 p.m. ET on Showtime
Why you should care: Because North American newcomer Marius Zaromskis fights like someone is controlling him with a video game pad; because opponent Nick Diaz probably won't be too impressed with that; because women's 145-pound champion Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos makes her first title defense since sending Gina Carano packing to Hollywood in August; because Melvin Manhoef and Robbie Lawler have strategies that only extend as far as getting to the arena; and because Herschel Walker seems like too nice a guy to root against.
Fight of the night: Manhoef/Lawler, unless Robbie has been drilling double-legs. (And he should be.)
Hype quote of the show: "My stand-up is OK, my wrestling is OK and my ground game is OK." -- Marloes Coenen, clearly underestimating the need to be just more than "OK" against Santos, who may soon begin sprouting horns from her forehead.
Five questions: "Strikeforce: Miami" edition
Q: Is Zaromskis ready?
A: Sixteen fights and five years into a steady career, Zaromskis has made it very easy for amateur filmmakers to create highlight reels. But of all that ridiculous footage, only Hayato Sakurai presented a serious and accomplished problem. Against Diaz, Zaromskis will be dealing with a new level of ability and someone far less likely to succumb to a reverse-somersault guard pass. This fight decides whether the stunt man is a novelty or something better.
Q: Is the women's division a two-trick premise?
A: Quickly: Name the rightful No. 1 contender to the Strikeforce 145-pound female title after Saturday's Santos/Coenen bout. Give up? It's a silhouette with a question mark. Despite adding to the women's industry with a pending 135-pound weight class, there's a serious deficit of talent at the upper levels to keep Santos -- or anyone -- busy at the top.
The UFC once dismissed any thoughts of a female influx for that exact reason. No one is doing anything to prove them wrong.
Q: Is Lawler a mixed martial artist or a 4-ounce boxer?
A: It could be misdirection, but Lawler is adamant that he plans to stand and trade with K-1 star Manhoef for Manhoef's US debut Saturday. On the scale of bad ideas, this one might edge out licking an outlet. Manhoef is essentially Lawler with a quicker trigger finger; when he initiates a brawl, most opponents do not like the exchange rate. Lawler's best chance is on the ground. Whether he goes there while still conscious is up to him.
Q: Was signing Walker a good idea after all?
A: For details that should be obvious, there are few good reasons to host a 47-year-old making his combat sports debut: Walker, despite his impressive athletic résumé, is not a fighter, and MMA is not skydiving. But in the media tour leading up to his fight against a nice shade of green in Greg Nagy, Walker has been a genial, good-natured ambassador for the sport. His presence has gotten Strikeforce exposure it would not otherwise have received -- on ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption," on "The Howard Stern Show" -- and it's been proved difficult to chastise him for tackling ambitions he approaches with such respect.
Q: When will Bobby Lashley become relevant?
A: Being entertained by Wes Sims is not quite the same as believing in Wes Sims, and no one will gasp audibly if Lashley runs through him. If he does, it would be the latest in a series of so-what performances by Lashley, who created (potentially unrealistic) expectations in MMA with his collegiate wrestling background and high profile from professional wrestling.
Heavyweights are on a notoriously steep learning curve: Cain Velasquez drew Cheick Kongo in his sixth pro fight; Brock Lesnar won the world title in four. Sims will be Lashley's fifth trip to the cage. Some acceleration is in order.
Red Ink: Diaz/Zaromskis
Diaz might have a nightstand brimming with books on geometry, military warfare and psychological intimidation. (All these things might also idle near a bong, but this isn't relevant.) His strikes come from odd angles, stretched farther than you'd think he could reach, and slap into heads with insulting sting. One or two are tolerable; 125 -- the amount of punches Diaz landed in the second round against Scott Smith in June -- are enough to ruin your evening. He will scowl, stick his chin out and dare you to do something about it.
Zaromskis is the kind of guy that dares. A Lithuanian by way of Japan, Zaromskis settles in to generate power from the ground up. He launches kicks with a proficiency that should worry his podiatrist. He's not afraid to climb into the pocket or do something unorthodox to get his way. This is the kind of fight you'll want to show friends.
Might look like: Diaz's bout with Takanori Gomi, a wild bar scene of a first round followed by Diaz using a deep well of conditioning and submission savvy to take Zaromskis out in the second.
X factor: Zaromskis' ability to scramble back to his feet in the event Diaz attempts to drown him.
Who wins: It's impossible to root against Zaromskis' ingenuity, but Diaz has proved more at this point: Diaz by submission.