This past Saturday in the headliner of Strikeforce’s most recent card in San Diego, California, runaway superstar and reigning, defending Strikeforce women’s 135 pound champion Ronda Rousey performed her sixth first round arm bar finish in a row against top contender Sarah Kaufman. In yet another display of grappling dominance, Rousey simultaneously cemented herself as a superlative talent and paved the way for Strikeforce’s lack of foresight to kill her career.
After her victory, Rousey called out the only known name in any of Strikeforce’s women’s divisions that she had not yet destroyed: Cris “Cyborg” Santos. Santos was recently stripped of her title and is serving the last three months of a suspension after testing positive for a banned substance in her last bout. However, with Santos and Rousey being the biggest women headliners in the promotion, the two have already been trading barbs to hype a fight after Cyborg’s imminent return.
There has already been some contention between Rousey and Santos as to which weight class the bout will be contested in. During Rousey’s public challenge after her win she insisted Santos “come to the champion” at the Rowdy one’s native weight of 135 pounds. Santos responded with a series of cryptic tweets saying she would be leaving Strikeforce because she no longer had a division there. These tweets went through an automatic translator, so Santos may have been saying that there was no one at 145 pounds for her to have a marketable fight with, though she has not clarified her statements since making them.
The terms of a fight deal between the two women appear to be on shaky ground before coming out of the gate. But, even if Strikeforce or someone at parent company Zuffa Entertainment can find a way to make Santos versus Rousey happen, then what? Strikeforce has made no effort to build any woman fighter outside of those in immediate line of contention with Rousey. The organization will not waste TV time on women unrelated to Rousey as the current champion, who seems to be born for the superstar role, pulled in so much more than other ladies in the way of ratings. And now, just one defense into her title reign, Rousey is almost out of women to fight.
It’s not like there aren’t legitimate contenders waiting in the wings. The 135 pound division is currently the flagship of all-women’s promotion Invicta FC. While a champion as dominant as Rousey would come in as the favorite against just about any woman in the world, Invicta has a few athletes that would at least appear to be a serious threat. Former Olympic freestyle wrestling silver medalist Sara McMann would not be as easy to take down as Rousey’s previous opponents. Submission queen Marloes Coenen seems to be mounting a comeback after losing the Strikeforce title to Miesha Tate, which Rousey later snatched. There is an extensive list of women Rousey would have to best before she’s officially conquered the world at 135.
But all those potential contenders fight for Invicta, or it’s Japanese analogue JEWELS. And while those two promotions may have some good presentation and some great fights, they don’t have a national TV deal in the USA. The casual fan in North America that a Showtime broadcast of Strikeforce would want to court has no idea why Rousey’s potential future contenders should be a threat. And, because Strikeforce will never put a women’s fight on its main televised card unless its directly related to Rousey, those fans will never know.
Rousey is an exciting enough champion that putting any woman in front of her will yield some ratings. Lord knows most fans watching Mike Tyson in his prime didn’t know the schlub he was fighting was on any given night. But, until Strikeforce is willing to branch out and build a complete division, true superfights, ones where even the channel-flippers have different opinions on who is going to win, are impossible.