The biggest fight in female MMA lasted only one explosive five minute round, and it was historic for several reasons. It was the first female MMA fight to headline a major card. It was the first five minute round the ladies have fought in a big-time organization. Gina Carano was handed her first loss. And on the biggest stage female MMA has ever seen, Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos provided a dominant performance as well as becoming the Women’s Champion.
Strikeforce did everything right on Saturday night. The opening montage told a perfect story for the fight, featuring footage of Gina Carano defeating every opponent she has faced with her technical Muay Thai style, while setting up her opponent as the ultimate test. Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos was also featured in intro, displaying her ruthless Chute Boxe Academy striking power, as well as her incredibly ripped physique. The table was set, now it was time for the ladies to step into the cage.
Santos was introduced first, and as expected the Brazilian was booed by the San Jose crowd. She even smiled during her introduction, as she had to know the audience would be behind her opponent. Carano, on the other hand, received the loudest cheers from the American fans who nearly drowned out ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr. while he ran down her impressive resume. The two ladies then stepped to the center of the cage, touched gloves after being given their final instructions by referee Josh Rosenthal, and took their positions in the corners, prepared for battle.
The opening seconds see both women engage with punches, and Santos continues to step forward, ending up in a clinch with Carano. Santos goes for a judo throw takedown, but Carano uses her positioning to end up on top as the fight goes to the ground. Gina lands some good right hand punches from Santos’ open guard and the crowd explodes, but only for a couple of seconds as “Cyborg” goes for leg lock submission attempt. Santos then transitions the hold into a heel hook, and the lock looks tight. Carano somehow escapes and stands up while the audience again roars for their fighter. While Carano did stand up, she barely got out of Santos’ grasp, and “Cyborg” then takes her opponent down to her knees, and gets back control while landing right hand bombs to the side of Gina’s head. Carano is able to hold and defend the strikes, finally finding a way to stand back up, although still in Santos’ clinch. “Cyborg” lands a serious right knee to the body of Carano, which she answers back with right and left hand punches to Santos’ face. Santos comes forward again and slugs back with punch combinations that drive Carano back against the cage and into another clinch. We are 1 minute into the fight.
“Cyborg” Santos then goes for a trip takedown that Carano handles perfectly, ending up with Gina in a full mount on top of Santos while landing combo punches. Carano drops stiff right hand on Santos chin and then stands up out of Santos’ guard. The two fighters actually take a breath, while the ref asks Gina if she wants to allow “Cyborg” to stand or initiate some action. Carano chooses to throw some kicks at Santos’ legs while she lays in her guard. Santos then decides to stand up even through Carano is clearly in range. Santos eats a big right while standing, although she is able to clinch with Carano up against the cage. Carano escapes the clinch with a strong back elbow to Santos’ chin, which is followed by the two women trading standing strikes in the center of the cage. Santos actually backs up a couple of steps, and both ladies throw right hand punches that land solid. The fight hits the 2 minute mark.
Santos throws a nice leg kick which catches the side of Carano’s knee. Gina tries to answer with her own kick, only to have Santos catch her leg, and land several right hands to Carano’s face, leading into another clinch. Santos once again takes back control on the standing Carano, and Gina makes a desperate rolling leg lock attempt that fails and Santos is in charge, landing more punch combos to Carano’s face. Gina is only covering up and taking the punishment, and when the two separate she looks tired and hurt. The two trade strikes in the center of the cage, and Carano then throws a Superwoman punch that lands cleanly on Santos’ chin, followed up by a nice body punch from Carano. Santos takes the punishment and comes forward again, simply walking through Carano’s strikes. “Cyborg” then clinches with Carano and overpowers her, shoving her to the ground and landing right hand punches to the side of her opponent. Gina stands up out of it and breathes hard with her mouth open. Santos pushes forward with strikes, clinches with Carano, and takes her down to the ground where “Cyborg” ends up on top. There is 1 minute left in the round.
Carano is in her half guard with Santos looking to pass, and instead she lands a short sharp left hand to Gina’s cheek. Santos goes for a kimura/Americana submission attempt, bending Carano’s left arm at the elbow backwards and behind her body. There is visible pain on Carano’s face, and she looks ready to tap out. Somehow Gina finds a way to power and roll out of the hold, possibly hurting the arm in the process. Santos postures up and drops a huge right hand punch to Carano’s chin, right on the button. Santos then lands another one. “Cyborg” drops down on top of Carano and throws several right hand power shots. Carano is doing nothing to defend, only covering up and blocking her face with her hands and arms. Santos lands again, and again, and again with hammering shots that are landing or at least partially landing, as the ref yells at Carano “fight back, you gotta fight back!” Several more power shots from Santos land. A huge right hook finds its way through Carano’s arms and lands flush while snapping Carano’s head back. Referee Josh Rosenthal has seen enough and waives off Santos, stopping the fight with 1 second left in the first round.
After the fight was stopped, Santos rolls to her stomach while screaming in celebration, and she then jumps up and runs around the cage, arms out in complete joy. Carano rolls over onto her back looking hurt while squinting and blinking, not arguing with the referee about the stoppage. Gina is able to stand on her own in about 30 seconds, as Santos is perched on top of the cage flexing and enjoying her moment. Carano is hugged by her trainer, Randy Couture, and she hugs him back, starting to show some disappointment on her marked up face. The two fighters meet each other in the center of the cage and show ultimate sportsmanship, hugging, and Carano even smiles at her opponent while kissing her on the cheek. The two are true warriors and both show great class. As the ring announcer shouts Santos’ name as the Champion, Carano claps for her while starting to get emotional. Santos is congratulated by her husband and training partner, Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos, and the two kiss after the title belt is strapped around her waist. Cristiane is then carried from the cage and back to the locker-room on her husband’s shoulders, signing autographs along the way.
This fight will surely go a long way in furthering the cause of female MMA, as the two combatants slugged it out in extremely entertaining fashion. Gina Carano will certainly get another shot at the belt, although one has to wonder if there is any fighter in the world who can or ever will beat the strongest and most vicious striker in the game, Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos.