Why are two of the world's "Top 10" female MMA fighters playing second fiddle to a group of unproven male prospects? [Photo by Esther Lin via Flickr]
Even if Strikeforce hasn't abandoned women's MMA, they sure aren't doing much more than the bare minimum to promote it.
Despite losing her Strikeforce championship belt, Sarah Kaufman is still considered one of the best pound-for-pound female fighters in the world. Liz Carmouche, a fierce competitor and bright prospect in her own right, is coming off a narrow loss in an action-packed bout for the exact same title. Whoever wins their upcoming bout could get right back into title contention. So why aren't these "Top 10" ranked mixed martial artists headlining Strikeforce Challengers 17?
It's a repeating pattern in a long-running story that has yet to change — if you're a female fighter and you're not Gina Carano, Strikeforce just isn't that into you.
(Just ask the last fighter who beat her, a certain champion who hasn't fought in over a year.)
First, let me pay credit to where credit is due. Many previous Strikeforce Challengers events have done a terrific job of promoting good female fighters. It was evident when the Riggs vs. Taylor event successfully gambled on pulling off a single-night tournament involving the solid cast of Miesha Tate, Hitomi Akano, and Carina Damm. Heck, Sarah Kaufman has practically built her name, record, and status on the backs of many Strikeforce Challengers cards. However, with the evolving state of FeMMA, top-ranked female fighters getting shafted in favor of their lower-ranked male counterparts just can't happen.
Sarah Kaufman pointed it out herself when her first defense of the Strikeforce Women's Welterweight Championship against Roxanne Modafferi was pushed to the co-main event slot in favor of Shane del Rosario vs. Lolohea Mahe. Despite the fact that she was defending a world title, her own promotion didn't deem it important enough to headline an event. Kaufman's assessment was simple:
"Get me on a main card on Showtime guys. I think I deserve it."
Of course, Kaufman is an interesting case. Despite her success rate, she isn't a ratings draw for various reasons. Kaufmann isn't as attractive as fan favorites like Gina Carano, Miesha Tate, or Rin Nakai. She's not a dominant, awe-inducing force like the powerful Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos. Moreover, and probably most damning, Sarah Kaufman's only headlining fight to date (a title defense against Smackgirl Champion Takayo Hashi) was a total disaster, boring MMA fans both in the arena and at home. And after slamming the daylights out of Modafferi, the then-champion took a stance against her employers that made the promotion look incredibly sexist and unfair.
As Ben Fowlkes pointed out last year, that's not too far off base:
That's not to say Kaufman doesn't have a legitimate gripe. If she were an undefeated, top-ranked male champion, you better believe Strikeforce wouldn't be wasting her on a Friday night show in Everett, Wash. But, whether it's right or not, the rules are different for male and female fighters.
In order to become stars, female fighters need a hook. Gina Carano's was her looks and, to a lesser extent, her charm. Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos' hook is her impressive physique and her ability to punch a hole in someone's face.
What [Kaufman] doesn't have is that one thing, the single-sentence descriptor that will put butts in seats. She's a little bit like a female Jake Shields in that sense. Other fighters know how dangerous she is, but she's not a human highlight reel or a magnetic personality or a one-person comedy show on the mic.
All of these things are possible (and probably) reasons why Sarah Kaufmann and Liz Carmouche, despite being title contenders, are sitting in the "Number 4" slot of a televised Strikeforce card.
But that doesn't change that fact that this main card billing is a missed opportunity to promote two of the promotion's best fighters.
Don't get me wrong, Bobby Voelker vs. Roger Bowling is an interesting rubber match and it deserves to be on the main card. But hasn't the Strikeforce diva (and women's MMA by extension) done enough yet to earn more recognition? Why are lower-ranked fighters like Devin Cole, Lavar Johnson, and Joe Cason — fighters who don't even scratch the "Top 50" of their respective divisions — upstaging two of Strikeforce's more recognizable talents?
No matter how you look at it, the best female fighters in Strikeforce are being undervalued.
Tomorrow night, if either pound-for-pound former champion Sarah Kaufman or title contender Liz Carmouche want to complain about being unappreciated in their post-fight interview, I hope that someone out there is listening — Strikeforce most certainly isn't.
[McKinley Noble is a staff editor at GamePro and an MMA conspiracy theorist. Follow his Twitter account for crazy talk, 1990s movie references, and general weirdness. Or you could just stalk him on Google.]