Holding its first card since trumping the Ultimate Fighting Championship for the rights to feature Fedor Emelianenko in the U.S., Strikeforce returns home to San Jose, Calif., for what its CEO and founder Scott Coker expects to be the company's most important show in the 25 years he's been in the fight promotion business.
While bout sheets for the event (Showtime, 10:30 p.m. ET/PT) haven't remained intact for so long as a week since the "mega-fight card" was first announced two months ago, the top of the bill -- a fight between female star Gina Carano, one of mixed martial arts' unique characters, and Brazilian mauler Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos -- has held firm. That's good, considering a handful of quality title bouts fell apart, and Strikeforce and Showtime invested nearly all of their marketing resources toward building up what has been dubbed the most anticipated fight in women's combat sports. Whether or not that translates into a good rating for Strikeforce's premium television partner, Carano-Cyborg is history making -- and it should deliver a pretty solid scrap.
Since debuting as a professional in 2006, Carano (7-0) emerged as one of MMA's first crossover stars. Listed ahead of First Lady Michelle Obama on a poll conducted by Yahoo! of the 10 most influential women of 2008, the 27-year-old Las Vegan has been asked to strike a balance not often required of her male counterparts.
After losing her pro debut in 2005, "Cyborg" -- a nickname taken from her husband, fellow fighter Evangelista Santos -- rattled off seven consecutive wins. While she sports a respectable ledger, the brutality with which Santos wins fights makes her compelling as she vies for Strikeforce's vacant 145-pound women's title -- a bout scheduled for five, five-minute rounds.
In all likelihood, Carano-Cyborg will be remembered as a battle of attrition. The fighters have touted a war, one likely to play out on the feet as each is comfortable in a firefight. Will Santos' aggression and pressure wilt Carano? Can Cyborg put away a skilled opponent who won't give up 10 to 15 pounds?
The consensus holds that Cyborg's Muay Thai will overwhelm Carano's. That's entirely plausible, but so is Carano mustering the courage to stand in the pocket and unload straight punches against a wild opponent.
As these things go when women fight on the same card as men, they often steal the show. On Saturday, they've been handed the keys.
A refugee lost amid Affliction's rubble, Strikeforce co-opted this light heavyweight fight as one of several replacement bouts when its original lineup went to shambles. It's quite an addition. Sobral, one of the most experienced 205-pounders outside the UFC, will now fight Mousasi, a cocky talent from the Netherlands, with his Strikeforce belt on the line. Added incentive wasn't necessary, but it's welcome.
As skill and talent go, few have more potential than the Iranian-born, Dutch-reared fighter of Armenian heritage who was ranked by many in the top five at 185 pounds before moving up in weight this year. At just 24 years of age with an impressive 25-2-1 record in mixed martial arts, the kid is a striker first, but he has worked hard to incorporate submission and grappling into his game.
Against Sobral (35-8), the challenger meets a top 10 champion who has fought everywhere and anyone for a decade. It could be a mistake for "Babalu" to strike with Mousasi, but he might do it anyhow. We've seen it before. While the 34-year-old Strikeforce champion is a better wrestler coming into the five-round title fight, he's also highly emotional. Mistakes in game plan and execution have cost him in the past, and we could very well see that scenario play out again Saturday.
Set for the Strikeforce interim lightweight title after the organization's champion, Josh Thomson, bowed out with a leg injury two weeks before the fight, Melendez (15-2) and Ishida meet in a rematch of a New Year's Eve bout two years ago that left Melendez with the first blemish of his career.
On short notice, it's terrific, though the 30-year-old Ishida's profile took a hit in May when he lost to Mizuto Hirota in 93 seconds in Japan. Still, if Melendez wasn't going to get a crack at Thomson's belt, he'll take a chance to avenge the first defeat of his career.
Their fight in 2007 was basically an extra long, extra intense wrestling match. Because Melendez made the mistake of not mixing things up, Ishida (18-5-1) capitalized by controlling positionally and more importantly, winning scrambles.
With a full training camp behind him, Melendez, 25, should have an edge in conditioning. And over the course of a five-round fight, that alone might be enough for him to even his mark against Ishida at 1-1.