I didn't shed many tears for the demise of EliteXC late last year. Any promotion that garners a national television contract and then does something as irresponsible as trying to convince the American public that Kimbo Slice is an elite fighter deserves what they got.
But the one major downer of EliteXC's end was the collapse of a reasonably successful women's division. Thankfully, Scott Coker and Strikeforce were able to step in and pick up the contracts. Now we're on the verge of the biggest moment in women's mixed martial arts history.
Saturday night, Gina Carano will face Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos for the Strikeforce Women's Championship at 145 pounds. You may have noticed the posters. It's the first time a major MMA card has been headlined by a battle on the distaff side, between two fighters that were skillfully built up by EliteXC into the biggest stars in the women's game (with more than a little help from NBC's American Gladiators, which showcased Carano as "Crush" for two seasons).
Strikeforce, however, deserves credit for making this happen. They've thrown some major promotion behind the event, even going so far as to make it the main event on a night that's certainly not lacking for good fights. Three titles will be contested on Saturday night (and Nick Diaz smoked away a shot at a fourth), but it's the ladies who are getting top billing. Beyond the promotional effort, Coker has worked to get the women on equal footing in another major way. For the first time in women's MMA, the title bout will have five-minute rounds. Previously, women's matches were contested in three minute rounds: the standard for "less experienced fighters". Moving to five minutes is a major step towards erasing any possible stigma that the women can't compete under the same conditions as the men.
Now, it's not perfect. Some of the marketing — and certainly, a lot of Carano's career, though whether the blame is hers or ours is up for debate — focused too much on the looks and not the skills of the competitors. Wags referring to the fight as "Beauty and the Beast" don't accomplish anything productive. And all this assumes that everything goes according to plan; both Carano and Cyborg have a spotty history of making weight, with both fighters missing their mark once in their last two fights and Carano just barely passing, sans clothes, on another one. It would be tremendously embarrassing for Strikeforce to contest a title at 145 with neither competitor at that weight.