(Photo via MMAWeekly)
By Matt Saccaro
There are points in MMA history that if one punch is ducked, one kick is thrown, one submission is secured, the entire fate of the sport changes.
Numerous fights hold the distinction of being important enough that history hung in the balance while the combatants tried to incapacitate one another, but one that doesn’t get much attention in the discussion of Griffin/Bonnar-level important fights is Gina Carano vs. Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos (or now Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino. Whatever, we’re just gonna call her Cyborg). Yeah, most people recognize its importance as the first BIG fight in WMMA history, but their appreciation for it doesn’t extend past that. And, historically, it shouldn’t. The fight was a big deal but it lead to nothing good. It sent the most recognized fighter in WMMA away from the sport forever. Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate, and others had to pick up the mantle that Gina Carano ran away from.
But, for a moment, let us pretend that the result of Carano vs. Cyborg was reversed. That’s what the second installment of CagePotato’s Alternate History series is based on: The fallout of Gina Carano hypothetically defeating Cyborg in Strikeforce.
What Would’ve Happened if Gina Carano Defeated Cyborg in 2009?
Before we get into counterfactuals, let’s briefly discuss what happened historically.
EliteXC (gee it fields weird to type that name again) had a burgeoning women’s division, no doubt to say “Hey, we have something the UFC doesn’t” and to draw attention away from the fact that their male roster wasn’t as loaded as the UFC’s. Not an issue though, because the women were awesome. Two specific ones were more awesome than most: Carano and Cyborg.
Carano was the most marketable female fighter at the time because she’s fucking gorgeous — and not just “fighter” hot, but seriously attractive. She could fight pretty damn well, too. Pushing Carano was therefore a no-brainer.
Cyborg isn’t conventionally attractive but she’s gifted at inflicting violence. Legitimate talent combined with an affinity for smashing fighters in a crowd-pleasing way is easy to promote.
Carano easily plowed through her competition while in EliteXC while Cyborg did the same. But the two never got to meet under the EliteXC banner. An off-balance jab from Seth Petruzelli straight to Kimbo Slice’s bearded chin sealed EliteXC’s fate (and, thankfully, sent the intolerable douchebag $kala back to obscurity).
After EliteXC’s demise, Strikeforce championed women’s MMA. They had Carano vs. Cyborg main event a show (the first time two women headlined a major MMA event) in August 2009. The fight wasn’t competitive. Cyborg was Gallagher and Carano was a hapless, helpless watermelon. Carano left the sport for Hollywood, never to return. Cyborg body-slammed Tito Ortiz, pissed hot for steroids, and beat up some fighters that she was way better than — a disappointing aftermath for one of the biggest fights in WMMA history.
But what if the fighter’s fortunes were reversed?
For argument’s sake, we’ll say that Carano didn’t botch the knee-bar she rolled for in the first round and managed to tap out Cyborg. What would’ve happened then?
Gina Carano (and a bunch of women for her to beat up) get brought into the UFC as soon as possible — and it ends badly.
Dana White is all about the money. He once swore that we’d NEVER see women in the UFC. But, here we are a couple years later with women in the UFC. What changed?
Ronda Rousey. The UFC realized they could hire a sexy, talented, silver-tongued woman and promote the shit out of her so that Dana White can buy more Ferraris while saying that the UFC pay scale is fine. White himself is open about this fact (well, the part about Rousey, anyway). He said so in an interview with Zuffa minister of propaganda journalist Ariel Helwani back in December:
“I’m putting my toe in the water, and I’m checking it out. There’s no doubt, for people who say, ‘Oh, this is the Ronda Rousey show,’ fuck right it is. You’re absolutely right. I’m not trying to shy away from that and say, ‘Oh no, we’re getting into women’s MMA.’ This is the Ronda Rousey Show.”
In this alternate timeline, Zuffa decides to bring the “Gina Carano Show” to the UFC as soon as possible after she beats Cyborg. Now, this is where it gets a little murky. Contractually speaking, it’s difficult to determine when the UFC could’ve poached the women away from Strikeforce. When Cyborg signed on with Strikeforce, she had a four-fight deal. After the Carano fight, Cyborg had two fights left. Finding Carano’s contract details has proved more difficult. All I can find is that she re-negotiated a new contract with Strikeforce after they purchased EliteXC’s assets. I’m no lawyer, so I’m not going to pretend to understand contractual intricacies. So, for the sake of this counterfactual, let’s pretend that the UFC lures Carano, Cyborg, and other prominent female fighters into the Octagon sometime after Carano-Cyborg but BEFORE Strikeforce can make the much-anticipated rematch.
What happens then and why does it end badly?
The UFC women’s division, in this alternate history, serves the same purpose that the current women’s division does: To act as a feeder system to the star at the top. In this alternate timeline, the star at the top is Gina Carano. Zuffa has Carano crush cans and has Cyborg do the same in order to build to an all-important rematch between the two. Maybe they even put them as coaches on a TUF season.
In the rematch, if Cyborg beats Carano, Carano takes her ball and goes to Hollywood like she did historically.
If Carano beats Cyborg in the rematch, the supply of money that can be made from the only feud in WMMA that people cared about is exhausted. Carano, sensing greener pastures and more money without having to damage her looks, leaves for Hollywood anyway. Once the cash cow at the top is gone, the feeder system no longer serves a purpose. Uncle Dana and Co. disband the women’s division (there’s a historical precedent for this; they disbanded the lightweight division in 2003).
“Never fucking again,” Dana White will tell reporters. Ronda Rousey’s emergence in 2011 isn’t even a blip on Zuffa’s radar screen. Why would it be? They tried their WMMA experiment and it failed. WMMA’s one chance in the UFC was blown.