Strikeforce Tournament Caps Big Weekend for Women's MMA

Carina Damm, Miesha Tate, Maiju Kujala, and Hitomi Akano will compete in a tournament tonight at Strikeforce Challengers X.

Last night fight fans got to enjoy two really exciting bouts featuring women at Bellator 24. Megumi Fujii advanced her strong case for being regarded as the world' most successful MMA fighter, stretching her winning streak to 21 straight against a game Carla Esparza. Then ATT's Jessica Aguilar tapped out Lynn Alvarez with a nice arm triangle.

Tonight we have the Strikeforce 135lb women's tournament, designed to build a compelling contender for champ Sarah Kaufman's title. Kevin Iole celebrates the "arrival" of women's MMA:

For that, give much of the credit to Showtime and Ken Hershman, the executive vice president and general manager of sports and event programming at the premium cable network. It is Hershman, even in light of the apparent retirement of Gina Carano, who made the call to continue to regularly include women's fights among its coverage.

Without Hershman's blessing, the four-woman tournament that Strikeforce will put on its Challengers Series card on Friday in Phoenix would have only been an idea floating in Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker's head. Showtime will broadcast the Challengers series card Friday from the Dodge Theater in Phoenix and will devote significant time to the tournament that will decide Strikeforce's second-ranked welterweight.

Miesha Tate, Carina Damm, Hitomi Akano and Maiju Kujala will compete in order to put themselves in position for a title fight. Strikeforce will randomly select the matches at Thursday's weigh-in, with the first-round matches being two three-minute rounds. The winners will then advance to meet for the tournament title in a fight which will last for three three-minute rounds.

More from Ben Fowlkes, SBNation Arizona's reporting from the scene and Sherdog in the full entry.

More BE coverage of Strikeforce Challengers 10: Riggs vs. Taylor

Ben Fowlkes is less enthralled with the tournament idea:

... I expect Friday night's women's 135-pound Strikeforce tournament will prove, every once in a while we need to be reminded why some things in the past didn't make it into the present.

The big problem with the one-night tournament is unpredictability. Even with only four participants, there are so many ways to go wrong and only one way to go right.
...

...what does the tournament give us that the normal progression of fights doesn't?

For one, it instantly creates the illusion of accomplishment. Winning one bout on one night? Hey, half the people on any given fight card do that. But when the evening begins with a group of bright-eyed, optimistic young pugilists and ends with only one left standing? That feels significant. It feels like we've all just witnessed the survival of the fittest in action.

The problem is, Strikeforce's tournament on Friday night isn't designed to crown a champion in the women's 135-pound class. It's not even designed to crown a number one contender to Sarah Kaufman's title, since Marloes Coenen supposedly has that spot all sewn up.

Instead, this tournament, in which the participants don't know who they're fighting until the day before, is meant to decide who's second in line for a title shot. How much more anti-climactic can you get? It's like being set up on a blind date, and if the person likes you they'll introduce you to their much more attractive friend, whenever that friend happens to be single again.

SBNation Arizona has the tournament draw and reports from the weigh ins:

Carina Damm, 134.8 lbs vs. Hitomi Akano, 135 lbs

Akano was actually 135.2 until she took off her shorts and stepped back on the scale. Damm, is by far the fiercest looking of the girls which had nothing to do with her unshaven legs which were back-light by the sun coming through a window.

This will clearly be the better of the two opening round fights. Both are somewhat unorthodox in their styles and both are experienced and look determined.

Second fight

Miesha Tate, 134.2 lbs vs. Maiju Kujala, 134.4 lbs

Tate should have an easy time of this and if she doesn't go right through her sweet-faced Finnish opponent than she doesn't belong her anyway.

Tate, in case you were wondering, was wearing a neon bikini for her weigh-in. She could have kept her shorts on like the other girls unless she needed the extra few ounces but choose to immediately show off her ... form.

I have to disagree with Fowlkes. The tournament format has me MUCH more intrigued with this card. Particularly since the Joe Riggs vs Louis Taylor headline is of very little interest, despite Riggs' claim vis-a-vis Sarah Kaufman that fans are paying to see the men fight, not the ladies. 

And for those who are still wondering if women can fight, Sherdog's Matt Pitt has a very interesting medical/scientific piece on the physiological issues. First Pitt talks about the big picture stuff:

The question of whether women should fight for a living cannot be answered. Attempts to do so clarify only the answerer's beliefs and biases. However, the question of whether women can fight -- can compete in MMA at an elite level -- is more tractable. It involves only analysis of sexual dimorphism, the differences in anatomy and physiology between the sexes. Quantifying the degree and importance of these differences, particularly in strength and endurance, lays the only legitimate foundation for discussion of women's MMA.

Then he discusses the irrationality of athletic commissions in the early days of WMMA:

The degree to which athletic commissions have felt the need to compensate for sex-based disparity in endurance has been wildly disproportionate for much of women's MMA history. The once standard three-minute rounds and the imposition of ludicrous two-minute rounds during a Gina Carano fight in California -- 40 percent and 60 percent less than men -- reflect not scientific differences but some other motivation. The most that the science can be used to justify is rounds truncated to 4:36; that is sufficiently close to the standard five-minute round that neither the Unified Rules for MMA nor America's premier promoter of women's MMA, Strikeforce, call for shorter rounds for women.*

If these biological parameters for women's MMA -- roughly 10 percent less endurance and strength -- are deemed unacceptable for high-level competition, one must consider not only writing off female MMA but also much of the men's game: lightweight men's classes for possessing insufficient muscle mass and heavyweights, too, for sub-elite cardiovascular endurance.

Then he talks safety:

Women are inarguably more susceptible to violent injury. Female skin is thinner, and women are endowed with lower levels of blood clotting factors; they are more likely to cut and more likely to bleed. Female bones are less dense, thus more susceptible to fracture. Women's ligaments and tendons are thinner, a crucial factor in surviving joint locks without injury. Less upper body musculature means less resistance to the head accelerations that cause brain injury.

These risks may be mitigated by women's lessened ability to deal out damage, but they are compounded by the relatively small pool of elite female fighters: The chance of highly trained fighters being pitted against women with much less skill and experience is real and puts those less skilled fighters at inordinate risk. This dangerous phenomenon occurred with tragic consequences in women's boxing, with promoters inflating elite female fighters' records in fights against opponents literally pulled off the street.

He also covers pregnancy and the so-called Female Triad: anorexia, amenorrhea, and osteoporosis. It's a great read. 

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