When Gina Carano steps into the cage with Cristiane "Cris Cyborg" Santos Saturday night, the Strikeforce MMA promotion will be putting on what its CEO, Scott Coker, calls not just the biggest women's MMA fight ever, but the most significant women's competition in the history of any combat sport.
In an interview with FanHouse, Coker -- who has worked in martial arts most of his life -- spoke about the historical significance of Carano vs. Cyborg and why he made it the main event on an MMA show that otherwise features only male fighters. The full interview is below.
Michael David Smith: In your view, how important is Gina Carano vs. Cris Cyborg as a historical moment for MMA, and as a historical moment for women's sports?
Scott Coker: When I first put this fight together, I realized it was big, and as a fan I was looking forward to seeing it even when I thought those two were going to fight each other in EliteXC, before I was involved. It's something fans have gravitated toward because these are two great athletes. We're really the beneficiaries of getting that deal for EliteXC.
If you know Gina, she's not just the girl next door with the pretty face. She can really fight. I've been watching her for a long time and she's a real warrior. She has that spirit. And when you look at Cyborg, she's just going to bring it. They're going to go into the cage and throw it down. This will be our first women's championship, so it's big for us. They've never had a female main event on Showtime, so it's big for them. And in the history of women's fighting, period -- boxing, kickboxing, anything -- there hasn't been a big fight like this. This is the biggest fight in the history of women's fighting, not just MMA.
It took a certain amount of chutzpah to make a women's fight the main event on a card made up otherwise of male fighters. Did you face any resistance to that?
There were some fighters who weren't happy, but it was a decision we made with Showtime, and they loved it. They think it's going to be fantastic. We're happy we made the fight a main event. This fight is worthy of being a main event.
It hasn't happened often in the United States, but there have been certain times in certain sports where the most popular female athlete was a bigger star than the most popular male athlete. I can think of Mia Hamm in soccer a few years ago, probably the Williams sisters right now are bigger stars in the U.S. than any male tennis player. Is it possible that Gina Carano can be the biggest star, male or female, in MMA in this country?
Well, I'll tell you this: If you look at the ratings on CBS when they showed her fights, when Gina Carano fought, the ratings spiked up, and then when her fights ended, the ratings went down. She has a certain popularity that goes way beyond other MMA fighters. She's been on American Gladiators, in a Pepsi commercial. She's done very well in MMA and very well outside MMA as well.
Are you concerned at all that one or both will miss weight?
That's a very good question, based on the history, but Gina has never missed weight at 145 pounds, it was always when they asked her to make 135 or 140 that she had trouble. Cyborg, because of what happened last time, we're sending a lot of e-mails, making sure she's on target to make weight. When you're a professional fighter, it's your job to make weight.
There are a lot of good fights on the undercard. How excited are you about acquiring the fight between Babalu Sobral and Gegard Mousasi, which was originally supposed to be part of the August 1 Affliction show?
Well, Babalu was originally scheduled to fight on this August 15 card, and we actually went to him and said, "We want you to fight this kid, Gegard Mousasi." And that's the fight we wanted to happen. But then (Affliction VP) Tom Atencio calls me and says, "We really want Babalu on our August 1 card." And I said, sure, go ahead, and then they set him up with Mousasi. So it's ironic that we now have the same fight we wanted in the first place.
Gegard is a great young fighter. He beat Melvin Manhoef and Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza in the Dream tournament in Japan last year. And then this year he beat a much bigger guy in Mark Hunt. A lot of people in America haven't seen Mousasi yet, but this kid is the real deal. When he starts fighting on Showtime for Strikeforce and M-1, people are going to know about this guy. He can punch, he can kick, he can take people down and submit them.