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Female fighters a big hit in Big Apple

Carano, Cyborg kick off historical bout with promotional tour in NYC



Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos, right, kicks her training partner, husband Evangelista Santos, during a workout for media members in New York City on Tuesday, July 14, 2009. Santos will be fighting Las Vegas’ Gina Carano in the biggest bout in female MMA history Aug. 15 in San Jose, Calif.

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Strikeforce chief Scott Coker, center, holds the 145-pound women's title belt that was up for grabs between Gina Carano, left, and Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos. Santos won the fight.

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When the catcalls had subsided and the differences between male and female fighters jokingly explored, the discussion surrounding the biggest fight in women’s mixed martial arts history finally turned to the bout itself Tuesday afternoon.

“I am not into public speaking, but I am so humbled and blessed by this unbelievable turnout of media and fans. It feels so great the support that you have given Cyborg and I,” Gina Carano said at a press conference at Madison Square Garden's WaMu Theater to promote her 145-pound title fight with Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos on Strikeforce’s Aug. 15 card in San Jose, Calif.

“(But) It is not just us. There are four title fights on this great card.”

Indeed, three more title tilts — between current Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem and Fabricio Werdum, lightweight champion Josh Thomson and interim title-holder Gilbert Melendez, and Joe Riggs vs. Nick Diaz for the first-ever welterweight crown — will take place, but the large number of media members were all there to talk to the female stars of the sport.

“This is a great opportunity and this will be a very good fight for the fans and media,” said the Brazilian Santos, through a translator.

The long-awaited bout between the undefeated Carano (7-0), the Las Vegas-based daughter of former UNLV and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Glenn Carano, and Cyborg (7-1) could be the Forrest Griffin-Stephan Bonnar moment (the pair put on arguably the most important fight in MMA history when their electrifying, and free-on-cable-TV finale to the UFC’s first “The Ultimate Fighter” helped propel the organization to new heights in 2005) women’s MMA has been hoping for.

The championship fight, which for the first time in women’s MMA will feature five, five-minute rounds, is already the biggest bout in terms of headlining the Showtime-produced event from the HP Pavilion.

“I want to thank the media and the fans for keeping it (MMA) alive. I have a passion for my job and I hope we reach other people to get the sport even stronger,” Carano said.

“This has been an amazing journey. I am blessed and humbled at the same time. I want to thank Strikeforce and Showtime. It takes a lot of (guts) to put this on.’’

Carano — who has fought just once in the past 14 months, when she defeated Kelly Kobold by unanimous decision in October — said she enlisted the help of UFC veteran Randy Couture and his stable of top pros at Xtreme Couture to prepare her for the “toughest fight of my life.”

“Cyborg is very strong. That is why I have reached out to Randy Couture to support me,” said Carano, who starred in American Gladiators.

“He has been a mentor to me. I need somebody like him to get me mentally and physically ready for the biggest fight of my career. I have to thank all my trainers. All of Las Vegas has come to my support.”

Cyborg, who scored a TKO victory over Hitomi Akano in her first Strikforce show in April, makes no bones about how media members will bill the contest “as the beauty and the beast,” but insists the bout likely will come down to technical precision.

“I am expecting a war. I have been training a lot since my last fight,” Cyborg said. “I am ready and very excited.’’

Andy Samuelson can be reached at [email protected] or 702-948-7837.

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