Strikeforce In-Depth Preview
From 2 MMAWeekly.com articles.
The biggest women’s fight in MMA history is set for Saturday at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif., where Gina Carano faces off with Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos for the newly created 145-pound women’s middleweight title.
Carano will battle to keep her place as the “face of women’s MMA” with the toughest challenge in her career. She’s had an extended layoff while deciding her fighting future, but to her credit, did not delay the fight after signing with Strikeforce in June. She’s focused her efforts at Xtreme Couture, relying on master game planner Randy Couture’s guidance to prepare and strategize for Santos. All that’s left to do is execute.
Alternatively, Carano is the biggest challenge yet for Santos, who’s never faced someone with the same striking prowess. A former professional handball player, she was recruited by Chute Boxe patriarch Rudimar Fedrigo on the courts and brought into the world of fighting, where her ferocity found it’s place. She’s steamrolled everyone in her way, using pure aggression to overwhelm her opponents.
The bout has serious implications for the future of women’s MMA in Strikeforce. Carano is the undeniable star, and the division will undoubtedly suffer if she doesn’t win. That said, all credit goes to Strikeforce for putting on the best fight possible at the tail end of an explosive summer for mixed martial arts.
The word is: don’t blink.
Cyborg is the female equivalent of Wanderlei Silva: old-school Chute Boxe MMA. That style, a take-no-prisoners, blitzkrieg hybrid of Muay Thai and jiu-jitsu, uses equal parts fear and technique to win the day. Cyborg’s impressive physicality intimidates opponents; she makes them beat themselves. When first bell rings, she simply walks them down and begins swinging for the fences. So far, it’s worked. None of her opponents have stood up to her. When they hit the cage, she’s at her deadliest, swarming with punches and kicks before locking up a plumb and firing knees. Over her four years in the fight game, her technique has improved. She has a jab, her punches are straighter, and she moves her head more in the pocket. But her spirit hasn’t changed – she will keep throwing until her opponent is out or a takedown is easy pickings.
It’s hard to imagine Cyborg breaking character for Carano, though she may temper her aggression by probing with keg kicks and jabs before rushing in. Her gameplan will be to time the attacks correctly, after a missed kick or when she’s used footwork to corner Carano. Then, it’s bombs away.
Carano is no less aggressive, but there’s a technical streak to her work inside the cage. Her jab and front kick serve as the first line of offense and defense: she sets up punch flurries and takes the steam out of opponents’ advances. In the pocket, her overhand right is her best weapon, a looping shot that gets around outstretched arms. Her Muay Thai background will show at close range when she leads with an elbow or uses the plumb to control an opponent’s base.
Expect Carano to pour on jabs and front kicks at the advancing Cyborg, keying off the Brazilian’s heavy right hand for a left hook overhand right combination. After weathering the initial storm, she’ll set up punching combinations with kicks and grind Cyborg down.
Carano’s grappling is mostly limited to defensive maneuvers that allow her to return to her feet. A lone submission victory over Tonya Evinger and resistance to Julie Kedzie’s ground work proved she could hang when the action went down, but in subsequent performances, she’s been matched with opponents who, for the most part, want to stand and slug with her. She does, however, have the flexibility to tie opponents up in guard and use her legs to initiate a scramble for position, or reverse an opponent as the fight hits the ground. It’s advanced basics, and she’s used her skills to keep the fight where she wants it.
Cyborg’s wrestling has improved dramatically from her early performances. She’s added a solid game of ground and pound to her arsenal, using her strength to power opponents into bad spots on the mat. Her jiu-jitsu cannot be ignored – against Yoko Takahashi’s sweep, she countered with a submission attempts – though she hasn’t used it much in her short career. Her best bet is to take Carano down off a body lock and pour on the punishment from top position.
And that’s where Carano will want to be if the fight goes down. Cyborg hasn’t been tested on bottom position, and may break under consistent pressure. Its doubtful Carano will cede position to finish a submission unless Cyborg makes a major tactical error.
More likely is a series of short ground engagements before the two scramble to their feet.
Cyborg’s M.O. so far has been one-sided: either she’s in complete control of the fight, or she’s trying desperately to get there. She’ll take any opportunity to come forward and finish her opponent with a barrage of strikes. As previously noted, she may pay more respect to Carano’s stand-up skills (not to mention the threat of a takedown) but at one point or another she’ll rush in and try to force a mistake.
Carano goes with the flow inside the cage. When opponents press, she backs away or returns fire. When opponents relent, she’s moving forward aggressively. Guaranteed, she’ll be on her bicycle more than ever before for this fight. She’s smart enough not to get into a firefight early on and will wait until later rounds to begin asserting her dominance, assuming she doesn’t get caught.
This section doubles as the “X” factor for this fight. It’s an entirely new world for both fighters. Neither have fought five, five-minute rounds. That’s sixteen extra minutes in the cage, and coupled with the energy of the crowd and pressure inherent to main event billing, conditioning could be a serious factor.
Carano carries the slight edge in this category because she tends to measure herself better during competition. Despite past troubles with weight cutting, she has not faded in later rounds. However, she hasn’t fought since October, and that could play a factor if the fight’s early pace is high.
Cyborg, on the other hand, is so aggressive that it could come back to bite her if the fight goes long. Her usual tempo is not sustainable for 25 minutes. If she gets overly aggressive or emotional when Carano’s punches find their mark, she could gas herself out chasing after revenge.
THE “X” FACTOR
Conditioning undoubtedly is the biggest “X” factor in the fight, and the answer should be evident in early rounds. If Cyborg comes out guns a blazing, it’s a question of whether Carano has the faith in her technique to stop Cyborg in her tracks, or if she chooses to evade the early storm and come on strong later.
In her last fight, Carano let opponent Kelly Kobald wear herself out driving for a takedown and poured the pressure on in the final minutes. While Cyborg’s aggression is more refined and brutal, the gameplan could be similar.
The question is how much respect the two give each other in the opening exchanges.
KEYS TO VICTORY
-Lateral movement, keep jabs and front kicks coming
-Don’t get into an early firefight
-Use Cyborg’s aggression to take her down
-Go the distance.
-Smart aggression: use footwork to counter and corner Carano
-Use plumb to control position and strike inside
-Get the takedown and work ground and pound
-Watch for high kicks
STRIKEFORCE LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP BOUT:
RENATO “BABALU” SOBRAL VS. GEGARD MOUSASI
Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Renato “Babalu” Sobral defends his title against Armenian wunderkind Gegard Mousasi. These two were originally scheduled to meet two weeks ago on the Affliction “Trilogy” card, but that event was cancelled and their fight was made a title fight with the move to Strikeforce. This is one of the more anticipated fights on the card, so expect it deliver on all levels.
Mousasi has been on an absolute tear for the last two years and looks to be an unstoppable force. Sobral is a veteran and will look to use his experience against Mousasi. Sobral will need to use wrestling and get the fight on the floor, as he'll need to stay off the feet if he wants to win. He'll want to stay in close with ground and pound and not give Mousasi space to lock on a submission. If the fight stays on the feet, expect Mousasi to tee off on Babalu, who has shown that he can be finished on the feet.
STRIKEFORCE INTERIM LIGHTWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP BOUT:
GILBERT MELENDEZ VS. MITSUHIRO ISHIDA
Hard hitting wrestler Gilbert Melendez faces off with wrestling specialist Mitsuhiro Ishida in a rematch of their close fight several years ago. Ishida replaces Josh Thomson, who had to pull out due to a nagging leg injury. Expect another back-and-forth fight between these two, as was their first encounter.
Melendez now switches to fighting a solid wrestler, while Thomson was a solid kickboxer and striker. He'll need to keep the fight on the feet and the pace quick, keeping Ishida on his toes and not letting him settle into a groove. Ishida will be looking to impose his wrestling will on Melendez, but will need to avoid getting hit on the way in to score a takedown. If he can do that then Melendez will have a long night, unless he can catch Ishida on the feet. The one x-factor in the fight will be what kind of shape Ishida is in after taking the fight on a couple weeks' notice and if he can go five hard rounds.
FABRICIO WERDUM VS. MIKE KYLE
Chute Boxe heavyweight Fabricio Werdum faces off with hard hitting heavyweight Mike Kyle. Both fighters lost their original opponents several weeks ago and now face one another in an intriguing fight. This is a classic clash of styles with Werdum being the grappler and Kyle the striker.
Plain and simple, this fight will not get out of the first round. Either Werdum will win by submission or Kyle will put his lights out. If Werdum gets the fight on the ground, it's over. He'll just need to get in close and secure the takedown. Kyle will need to keep the distance and stay out of takedown range, which will open up opportunities for him to end the fight with one big shot.
JAY HIERON VS. JESSE TAYLOR
Xtreme Couture welterweight Jay Hieron faces off with Team Quest fighter Jesse Taylor. Taylor takes the fight on about a week's notice thanks to Nick Diaz being Nick Diaz and failing to show up for his drug test. This is the third different opponent that Hieron has had in the last several weeks as fights have been falling through for him.
Hieron is known for his wrestling and boxing ability, while Taylor is primarily a solid wrestler. Taylor will be moving down from middleweight for this fight and will be the much bigger fighter on Saturday night. Hieron will need to keep the fight on the feet as Taylor is the better wrestler of the two and will use his size advantage to boot on the ground. Taylor will look to wrestle Hieron down and keep him there with solid ground and pound. Hieron's best chance will be to finish the fight on the feet.