It was a tough night for the champions of Strikeforce's light heavyweight and women's welterweight division Saturday in Columbus, Ohio.
One of them, women's 135-pound champion Marloes Coenen, managed to hang on to her belt -- just barely. She was easily matched for one round and dominated for two against the fearless, less-experienced Liz Carmouche, before finally using a sizable height advantage to submit the first challenger to her title.
The other, light heavyweight champion Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante, gave too much space to his first challenger, perennial contender Dan Henderson, and found himself looking at the lights in the third round after drawing first blood with a big punch in the opening frame.
So Coenen is now teed up for a second title defense, against Meisha Tate, and "Feijao" makes the trip back to his native Brazil without his belt. Both go back to the drawing board.
Here's a closer look at the fallout from Saturday's event:
Next up for the 40-year-old fighter is most likely a title defense against the winner of an April 9 bout between former champion Gegard Mousasi and Mike Kyle, who was earmarked as a possible contender during Saturday's broadcast. Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal is also on the list of contenders should he be victorious in a June fight against an opponent to be announced.
That's about it for credible threats to Henderson's crown in the next 12 to 18 months. Roger Gracie won't be ready anytime soon, and apart from the rematch circuit, there's not much out there at 205 pounds unless Strikeforce acquires more top-tier talent. That could mean one last trip to middleweight, where champ Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza waits. Winning the promotion's 185-pound title would be a great end to a decorated career.
Eventually, physics caught up to her. She made a tactical error when she opened herself to a triangle choke and tapped when she couldn't shuck the long legs of Coenen. But Carmouche certainly proved she was no gimme; the champ lay on the mat in exhaustion, aware she was fortunate to win.
"Liz is very, very talented, and she will be a champion someday," Coenen said at the post-fight news conference.
Should Carmouche continue to deliver the same type of performances, that day could come sooner than later. She's a tough matchup for several top 135-pound competitors, including Meisha Tate, who was supposed to fight Coenen before sustaining a knee injury. Thinking in the short term, a bout with Amanda Nunes is a great fight for the former Marine. Longer term, Alexis Davis and Shayna Baszler are good starts. Whoever's next, they know they're in for a fight.
Now that his first test is in the books, Masvidal can go to work in both the lightweight and welterweight divisions. He'll deliver exciting fights in both; I was told last week that the winner of Evangelista vs. Masvidal would get a crack at K.J. Noons, who's returning to the lightweight division after an unsuccessful bid at welterweight champion Nick Diaz's belt. Noons is expected to fight at Strikeforce's next major Showtime event, on April 9 in San Diego. That could be the time for Masvidal's coming-out party.
There could, of course, be extenuating circumstances that made Cavalcante look slower than usual. Maybe he had just prepared himself for a grueling five-round battle in the clinch and on the mat. Maybe Henderson simply prevented him from executing his game plan with superior wrestling and clinch work. Either way, he learned a lesson he might have already known had he possessed more experience going into the high-profile fight. Unfortunately, he had to learn the hard way.
As Strikeforce commentators pointed out during Carmouche's ground-and-pound party, it seemed Coenen wasn't aware that she could use the cage to initiate a reversal. She wasn't hurt by the punches, of course, and the referee thankfully abstained from a positional stoppage. But had Carmouche's punches been harder and more accurate, the belt would have changed hands once again. Coenen has got some work to do when she gets back to her home city of Amsterdam.
The California-based promotion can take him back to the minor leagues to regain his confidence against largely unheralded opponents, or take another chance by putting him against a mid-tier fighter who's coming off a loss.