Archive for August 21st, 2009

‘Gina Carano Date Night in San Jose: Hit Movie, Unhappy Ending’ (full text from Beyond Chron)

[originally published at Beyond Chron, August 17,

Gina Carano Date Night in San Jose: Hit Movie, Unhappy Endlin

By Irvin Muchnick

My first live mixed martial arts show was also a unique Bay Area summer date night: American Gladiator alumna and magazine cover girl Gina “Conviction” Carano vs. Brazilian destruction machine Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos for the 145-pound women’s championship of Strikeforce, the No. 2 torchbearer of the MMA phenomenon. For the first-ever women’s main event at a major MMA show, more than 13,000 fans, almost all shrieking Gina-maniacs, nearly filled San Jose’s HP Pavilion. Some millions more watched on Showtime.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many couples at a sporting event. This was like a real-life chick flick with an unhappy ending, as Cyborg won convincingly by technical knockout with a single second left in an action-packed first round. The main draw of the nine-fight card, which made for a big-event atmosphere you can’t manufacture with smoke and mirrors, thus also proved the most entertaining match, by far.

Initially, MMA live can be a disorienting postmodernist experience. Even from press row, a mere dozen rows back, it is almost impossible to perceive much detail through the octagon cage, especially when the fighters hit the ground. You learn to follow the action mostly via the many supersized overhead monitors, and track the crowd reaction (which as often as not is fool’s gold) for the most effective strikes, throws, mounts, and submission moves. Boos accompanying lulls in offense also goad the performers into adrenaline mistakes of commission.

But the profound personal connection fans feel with their favorite fighters is undeniable. Here is where MMA less resembles the boxing/pro wrestling hybrid that is so often cited, and more travels the blue-collar trail blazed by NASCAR. On the Saturday undercard, a Fresno lightheavyweight, Mike Cook, got knocked silly by Scott Lighty of San Luis Obispo. Out on his feet, Cook doubled over from a kick to the gut and shook his head, and the referee stopped the bout after one more head shot. Minutes later, walking down the aisle back to the dressing room, Cook was waylaid by a blonde who asked him to pose with her while the woman’s boyfriend or husband snapped away on his cell phone camera. Cook obliged with a warm smile.

With girl-next-door looks and charm, while also making her mark as a top-tier bad-ass cager, Carano is a once-in-a-generation talent. But no one goes undefeated in this sport, and Saturday she met her match for the first time in eight fights. Cyborg is bigger-boned and longer-reaching, and has superior skills in just about every phase, even though Carano is herself a world-class boxer and Muay Thai striker. As the women traded blows and kicks, and took each other to the ground and against the cage, perspiration ran in rivulets down the gutters of their corn-row braids.

But the five-minute round (up from the usual three-minute women’s MMA rounds) favored the Brazilian android over the American cutie. Gina seemed more caught up in the history and the hype, more unwisely determined to use every weapon she knew all at once, more tactically unfocused – in sum, overwhelmed by her opponent. When she got to her feet following the mildly controversial ref’s stoppage, Gina flashed her trademark dimpled smile and graciously hugged her conqueror.

Carano did not attend the post-fight press conference – unusual for a main event loser though far from unprecedented. Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker said he did not know where she was. She may have been depressed, injured, deferring to Cyborg’s big moment, or reluctant to have her puffed-up movie-star features photographed at will.

As Carano ponders her future, she has to be wondering how much more of this she needs to take. Women’s MMA is big and growing, but she, and now Cyborg, remain the only names really known by the general public. With a reset button and the right set of fresh foes to build to a Cyborg-Carano II, the first female main event on the pay-per-view gravy train is a viable possibility a year or so down the road – even if the result is unlikely to be much different.

Irvin Muchnick is author of the forthcoming CHRIS & NANCY: The True Story of the Benoit Murder-Suicide and Pro Wrestling’s Cocktail of Death, and lead respondent in the current Supreme Court writers’ rights case, Reed Elsevier v. Muchnick. He tweets at

‘Cyborg Pummels Carano, Makes History’ (full text from SLAM! Sports)

[originally published at SLAM! Sports on August 16,

Cyborg pummels Carano, makes history

By Irvin Muchnick

An hour after her technical knockout victory last night in San Jose, just a second before the horn ending the first round, Cris Cyborg was asked if she resented having been cast as the “heel” in her confrontation with the glamourous and charismatic Gina Carano.

“Gina can have the title of ‘face of girls’ MMA,’” the Portuguese-speaking Cyborg responded through an interpreter. “I have this title.”

And she pointed to her new Strikeforce middleweight championship belt – the first ever bestowed on a female fighter by this promotion, at the conclusion of the first major MMA show ever headlined by women.

Carano and Cyborg’s furious five minutes raised the HP Pavilion roof. The arena, filled to 90 percent capacity – with nearly 100 percent of the fans cheering wildly for the American cutie over the Brazilian destruction machine – created an extraordinary gender-neutral big-event atmosphere.

In turn, that could both permanently lift the MMA’s women’s division and transform the profile of Strikeforce as a viable alternative to Ultimate Fighting Championship, where the only women are ornaments.

Moving forward, the only problem may be that other women – or Cyborg and Carano themselves if a rematch is ever made – will be hard-pressed to match Saturday’s performance.

It was an action fight, easily the most electric of the nine-bout card. Cyborg was never in serious trouble. Gina gave as good as she got for at least the first three minutes before Cris’s superior leverage and relentlessness simply overwhelmed her.

On the ground, Carano powered out of Cyborg’s attempted heel hook and foiled a kimura armbar. But eventually Cris got the mount near the octagon cage, Gina’s guard closed up, and a dozen or more wind-up 12-to-6-o’clock right hands rained down.

The crowd booed referee Josh Rosenthal’s stoppage at 4:59, but it was hard to argue with – Carano had stopped defending herself. She rose from the canvas after a minute of medical attention, forced a dimpled smile and congratulated the new champ.

Carano had trained for this fight with Randy Couture, and she may have been overconfident in her new wrestling and clinch skills.

Or she just may have been overly amped up by the history, the hype and the crowd, which led her to try to match Cyborg blow by blow and move by move. Surely second-guessers will wonder if Carano would have better served herself in her more familiar stand-up Muay Thai posture, at least for a round of feeling out an opponent whose overall skill set was at another level.

Even though the more marketable name lost, Strikeforce came out a winner, as the women clearly proved a plus in the company’s quest for perception as a solid No. 2 to UFC, if not a potential 1-A.

Though many male fighters not on Saturday’s card were introduced to the crowd, the other recent Strikeforce coup – the signing of heavyweight kingpin Fedor Emelianenko after he spurned a multimillion-dollar offer from UFC – got no bump at all from the 13,524 in attendance or the Showtime television audience. Emelianenko wasn’t there.

Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker later explained, “When Fedor is in training, nothing can get him out of camp.” An insider had a less generous explanation: “Fedor is just impossible to work with.”

On Saturday night another Brazilian, heavyweight Fabricio Werdum, made a case for being in line to challenge Emelianenko. Werdum submitted Mike Kyle, one of several San Jose local favorites on the undercard, with a guillotine choke in 1:24 of the first round.

Gegard Mousasi, an impressive fighter out of Armenia, won the Strikeforce light heavyweight championship from Renato Sobral with a one-minute TKO.

Gilbert Melendez, billed as the Strikeforce “interim” lightweight champion during the injury absence of Josh Thomson, stopped Mitsuhiro Ishida with a series of unanswered ground strikes at 3:56 of Round 3.

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