Strikeforce welterweight champion Marloes Coenen (18-4) will attempt to defend her title for the first time on Saturday night as she battles late replacement Liz Carmouche (5-0). Coenen won the title back in October in a hard-fought war with Sarah Kaufman, eventually submitting the Canadian champion in the third round of action via armbar. She had previously attempted to oust Strikeforce middleweight champion Cris "Cyborg" Santos in January of last year. Santos' immense strength and power battered Coenen for a majority of the fight, although Coenen did prove her mettle by surviving the onslaught until the third round.
Carmouche has been heralded as a top prospect in the women's 135 lb. weight class. She is a former United States marine who turned to mixed martial arts following the end of her tours of duty in the Middle East. Training under Manolo Hernandez and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world champion Baret Yoshida, Carmouche has shown impressive control on the ground and brutal power punching from top control. Her best win, a drubbing of long-time veteran Jan Finney, came back in November.
With only five career victories under her belt, Carmouche will head into Saturday night with an enormous disadvantage in terms of experience. Coenen, who has fought twenty-two times over an eleven-year timespan in the sport, looks to be the more seasoned striker and grappler in this contest. Experience is an almost insurmountable obstacle for Carmouche, especially when we compare the performances of Coenen to the little we've seen from Carmouche.
Carmouche's stand-up game is a work in progress. She isn't technically sound at this point in her career, but she has the know-how to throw combinations and land against weaker defensive opponents. Jan Finney did a decent job early in the November contest against Carmouche, but the threat of takedowns and ground and pound caused Finney to become more cautious as the fight progressed. That would be the ideal strategy for Carmouche to implement in this title showdown, but it's difficult to gauge how successful she can be in the clinch with Coenen.
Coenen is very tough to take down consistently. Her lengthy frame helps immensely in those situations along the fence, and she has the added threat of a devastating Muay Thai game that deters most opponents. Carmouche will run into that problem quickly, along with the fact that she'll have to go for broke in order to get inside on Coenen's range.
If Carmouche happens to initiate the clinch, we have a fight on our hands. Carmouche brilliantly tripped and toppled Finney at every opportunity, and it's difficult to believe Coenen can avoid those takedowns. Finney, on the other hand, has historically shown poor evasion tactics along the fence. Coenen won't be so easy to bring down to the mat. Oh, and by the way -- Coenen is one of the slicker grapplers in the entire division, something Carmouche hasn't truly been tested against in the mixed martial arts world. Baret Yoshida has his work cut out for him.
I only see one scenario in which Carmouche can be effective, and it relies on discipline and relentless conditioning. If she can wade through Coenen's striking and get to the clinch, she could be a threat to bring the fight to the ground and work over Coenen from top control. Unfortunately, there are way too many obstacles in her way. Coenen's length, improved striking, solid takedown defense, and slick Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ground game make her one of the most well-rounded fighters in the division. Carmouche doesn't have the tools yet to deal with a champion of Coenen's caliber. Coenen batters Carmouche in this contest, taking a limb eventually and winning via submission.