Dan Henderson's fists-flying finish was so explosive in the Strikeforce main event Saturday in Columbus, Ohio, that it produced not one but three losers.
The most obvious, of course, was Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante, who lost his light heavyweight championship belt to "Hendo" and has the bruised chin to show for it. But also falling victim to the 40-year-old's thunderous third-round TKO, in a sense, were the participants in the evening's other title fight.
Women's welterweight champion Marloes Coenen and her challenger, Liz Carmouche, were "losers" only in a publicity-generating sense. Coenen and Carmouche put on the kind of heart-pumping performance that can only elevate women's MMA. If anyone even remembered it, that is, after Henderson stole the spotlight.
Coenen's fourth-round come-from-behind submission victory is something Strikeforce ought to be able to build upon. With the UFC uninterested in women's fighting, it's up to Scott Coker & Co. to promote this segment of the sport. And now Strikeforce has a more appealing story, in the purest sense of sports as competition, than the narratives we've previously been fed about the women's game.
The first women's MMA hero -- at least the first to bring widespread notice to the sport from the mainstream public -- was Gina Carano, formerly known as "Crush" on American Gladiators. Making the cast of that TV show required her to be an elite athlete, true, but easy enough on the eyes that guys would tune in. And that dichotomy followed Carano into her fighting career.
The former Muay Thai competitor had more than a pretty face going for her, as she won all but one of her MMA fights, mostly in dominant performances. Yet she became known somewhat lasciviously as "The Face of Women's MMA," was ranked in Maxim magazine's "Hot 100" list, and even when featured in a sports publication, it was while posing semi-nude for the "Body Issue" of ESPN The Magazine. And speaking of nude, one of Carano's most talked-about moments in MMA was when she had to strip naked to make weight for a 2008 bout. (A male fighter on that same card had to weigh-in naked behind a towel, too. Do you remember who it was? No, of course you don't, but you remember Carano.) In the end, Carano's movie star looks earned her a new career ... as a star of the upcoming Steven Soderbergh movie, Haywire.
The woman who sent Carano hustling off for the safety of Hollywood was Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos, who took the Strikeforce middleweight title from Gina with a vicious first-round TKO in August 2009. Since then the Brazilian dynamo has brutalized two more women, most recently in a second-round KO of Jan Finney last June. Cyborg's dominance can be awe-inspiring, just as it was thrilling to watch a young Mike Tyson mow down everyone in his path. But with no woman seeming capable of giving Santos a competitive fight, her appeal is limited. She's too talented for her own good.
That's where Coenen comes in. She's the other woman to be beaten down while challenging Cyborg for her title. And following that loss a little over a year ago, Coenen dropped down from 145 pounds to 135 to challenge undefeated welterweight champ Sarah Kaufman. When Coenen took the belt from Kaufman in October with a third-round armbar submission, it was in a back-and-forth fight that left fans wanting more. And they got plenty more competitive action Saturday night, as Coenen was mounted and relentlessly pounded upon by Carmouche in both the second and third rounds before finally pulling off the sub by triangle in the fourth. The fight really got fans stirred up.
If Coenen continues to put on electrifying performances like that, she can be a star. And Carmouche, the previously unbeaten ex-Marine known as "Girl-Rilla," elevated her career profile, too, with the rugged fight she gave the champion as a late replacement for injured Miesha Tate. Tate is likely to get the next shot at Coenen, but Strikeforce would be wise to get Carmouche back into the cage soon, too, perhaps against Kaufman, who will fight next month for the Armageddon Fighting Championship promotion. The 135-pound division has what it takes -- competitive bouts -- to drum up interest in the women's fight game.
And if that's not enough, Gina Carano has announced that she's coming back to the land of no stunt doubles.
Sunday mornings will soon be a little less bleary-eyed for fight fans.
Starting with next month's UFC 129, pay-per-view telecasts for the fight organization's events will begin at 9 p.m. ET, an hour earlier than usual. The time change for the April 30 fights in Toronto was reported by several MMA news outlets, some of which cited sources as saying the UFC is considering a change for all PPVs going forward. However, a UFC spokesperson confirmed for SI.com on Wednesday that the time change will indeed be a fixture for all future PPV events. Spike telecasts of free-TV preliminary fights will start an hour earlier, at 8.
The new time couldn't come at a better, um, time. UFC 129 is headlined by arguably the top pound-for-pound fighter in MMA, Georges St-Pierre, defending his welterweight title against Jake Shields, the former Strikeforce middleweight champ and ex-EliteXC welterweight belt holder who has won his last 15 fights, a streak dating back to 2005. The co-main event is another title bout featuring a P4P beast, featherweight champ Joe Aldo, who'll take on Canadian striker Mark Hominick. Also on the card, UFC Hall of Famer and five-time champion Randy Couture will take on ex-light heavyweight titlist Lyoto Machida.
That trio of fights makes UFC 129 an Event with a capital "E." What makes it even bigger is that it will be the company's first promotion held in a stadium. The UFC sold out 55,000 seats at the Rogers Centre in a matter of minutes.
It's a made-for-SportsCenter happening, and now it will be happening early enough to make the TV newscast. And the morning newspaper. And you won't have to wait up till 2 a.m. to read my poetic take on the event here at SI.com.
With nearly half of the U.S. population living in the Eastern time zone, and Canada's potential viewership numbers slanted eastward as well, this change makes sense. Until now, main events typically have ended between 12:30 and 1 a.m. ET, which is fine for the sport's core young-adult demographic but a bit late to attract a wider array of fans. It'll be more feasible now for UFC fans to invite a bunch of friends over for a PPV viewing party. Parents might even let their kids stay up to watch some of the fights.
If my kids are reading this, I don't mean 5- and 8-year-olds!
"I don't think it's unfair to say that the stoppage was not a good stoppage, and I know Anthony Lapsley was prepared for this fight, ready to rock and roll." --Bellator co-founder Bjorn Rebney, to Sherdog.com after Jay Hieron won his opening fight in the promotion's welterweight tournament with a controversial submission of Lapsley
Watching that fight Saturday night, it was impossible to blame referee Josh Rosenthal, who pulled off Hieron only after Rebney was unresponsive as he lay flattened out in a rear naked choke. It turned out that Lapsley was very much conscious, although you might say it was just a matter of time, as he was being dominated by the ex-UFC fighter. And it looks like Lapsley will get another chance.
And if you believe in all publicity being good publicity, the controversy generated a good bit of attention for Bellator's debut on MTV2. The Bellator 35 event in Lemoore, Calif., easily could have gone unnoticed, as it was held on the same night as Strikeforce: Hendo vs. Feijao.
Under a new deal with MTV2, Bellator fights will be televised every Saturday night through May 21, with tournaments in the featherweight, lightweight, welterweight and light heavyweight divisions playing out. There are no UFC or Strikeforce conflicts this weekend.