After the historic match between Gina “Conviction” Carano and Cris Cyborg Santos, there has been a buzz about how women’s MMA will start to take shape. Well it will come to know ones surprise that a female pro-wrestler has decided to throw her hat into the ring. Lisa Marie Varon aka Victoria (WWE) & Tara (TNA) has recently expressed an interest in entering the cage. Already comparisons to Brock Lesnar and Bobby Lashley have been attached to her and her desire to fight Kim Couture has been made known. Since her retirement from the WWE Lisa has been training in MMA and has been training in Brazilian Ju Jitsu for some time now before that and although she has not officially named her school in a blog she does have pictures with Helio Soneca and has mentioned that her coach also trains Rafael dos Anjos, which leads one to believe her school is affiliated with Gracie Barra. Also featured on her myspace pictures are her and Terri Blair who is a professional female boxer, whom she calls her “workout partner.” On top of all of that she has recently hired J.T. Stewart as her manager who also manages the former UFC Middleweight Champion and current Light-Heavyweight fighter Rich “Ace” Franklin. Given these connections, or at least apparent ones, Lisa’s journey into MMA maybe a promising one, especially with the recent Santos vs. Carano fight. There are both positive and negative aspects to her journey that may come into play that will either benefit her career or cause it to be a relative “flash in the pan.”
Lisa Marie’s background as an athlete is well documented. She started out as a cheerleader earning an NCA All-American while in high school. She also won numerous Fitness and Bodybuilding titles while she was a personal trainer, before making the jump into professional wrestling in 2000. How does this all translate into a positive for an MMA career? Well as a professional fitness competitor she is used to not only training extremely hard, but also is used to cutting weight for competitions. She is listed as being five foot eight inches and one hundred and fifty-five pounds, which would put her into the largest and most competitive division in women’s mma. A self-described workout addict Lisa Marie also displayed great power and athleticism in professional wrestling. Never as big as some of the larger women wrestlers her strength seemed to be equal or only slightly less than her larger counterparts. If one were to look into her signature and finishing moves it becomes apparent that she was seen as a powerhouse type of wrestler. In addition to power moves she also did moonsaults or a backwards flip “splash” into a pinning move. She sometimes did this from a standing position. After watching a few videos of her matches and having seen some on tv no one would argue that the women is athletic. It is obvious that athleticism is in her genetics as her older brother Bobby Sole was a gold medal wrestler at the Pan- American games in 1983. Finally she has appeared on some of the biggest events in pro-wrestling so that should translate well into not being “nervous” because of a large audience. Pro-wrestlers are known to be tremendous athletes often working grueling schedules, so the work ethic and atmosphere of MMA should not be hard for her to adapt to.
But there are some proverbial roadblocks in Ms. Varon’s attempt to jump into the cage and perform at a high level. First and foremost, despite the pro-wrestling career, she has only recently started training in MMA. While most fighters come from some sort of combat sport background she does not, but instead comes from an athletic and sports entertainment one. While pro-wrestling is a grueling and demanding athletic occupation it is not a true combat sport and does not prepare its competitors for the nuances of fighting. Sure there may be some areas that translate well, but without a true striking element or real submission and grappling technique it is hard to say that its craft will prepare her well. In addition pro-wrestling has been known to take a grueling toll on its participants bodies and has been documented by many ex-wrestlers and active ones of the injuries that they accumulated throughout there tenure. Only Lisa Marie knows how much damage has been done to her body, but it is not like she is entering MMA with “limited wear and tear.” Finally, she was born Feb. 10, 1971 which means that at the time of this post she is 38 years old. At this stage in their careers many fighters are exiting the sport or on their way out. Sure certain ones remain on longer, like Randy Couture or Mark Coleman, and have had success, but there are many who have not. Chuck Liddell may serve as an example as he is will be forty in December. Granted he has fought longer than her and therefore been subject to many more strikes and such, but both began their respective careers within two years of each other. One has to wonder if her reflexes and “chin” are up to facing younger fighters with more experience.
With the enormous success of Brock Lesnar and to a lesser extent Bobby Lashley it was only a matter of time that more professional wrestlers would seek to make the transition to MMA, although this is not a new trend. But as the fighters pay increases and a less “demanding” schedule there are those who may consider the move. The fact that Lisa Marie Varon is attempting this should be no surprise given her background. The major question is that at this stage can she be successful? If she can make the transition quickly and with success, women’s MMA gains a viable star to add to the already growing roster. If she fights at 145 it adds another name into the mix to help build a following. If not does it really impact the sport? Only if she is rushed into the spotlight it would appear. But given her athleticism, strength, intelligence (she was on track to be a physician), and drive those who would bet against her or say definetly not might be in for a surprise.
Awhile ago in a post I made the argument that Gina Carano was the most popular MMA in the world. I still stand by that remark, but after her fight with Cris Cyborg Santos on Saturday August 15 people may ask where she stands in the future as the “Face of Women’s MMA”? To that I can say that Gina will remain the more popular fighter out of the two (at least in the foreseeable future), especially in the U.S. Her combination of skill, personality, and good looks means that she will have cross cultural appeal to many people that other fighters male or female do not have. She is liked by both male and female fans for a wide variety of reasons and that will continue as long as she continues to have success in the cage. And before we put the proverbial “nail in her coffin” remember that this is Gina’s first defeat in a cage. And while her Muay Thai skills are well known, she is still a relative newcomer to the world of MMA having only fought MMA for three years and having eight fights. Santos for her part proved she is a serious fighter, for those of you who do not know. But she is herself kind of a “newbie” with only nine fights in four years. She has however come up in the Chute Boxe camp and has been around MMA for considerably longer than Carano, but that still does not mean that she is a seasoned veteran in her own right and as evident by the ground “skills” both fighters displayed Saturday, there is considerable room for improvement for both in this area. But after what had been billed as the “Biggest Fight in Women’s MMA” where do both fighters go from here? And what is the future of the sport? After some careful consideration of the events that transpired, both fighters answered some questions and left many open for debate.
As stated before Gina Carano will remain popular for a wide variety of reasons. In addition to her fighting, she has a lot going for her and will still find her way in the media and mainstream America and the World. But as a fighter Saturday offered a glimpse of what can come. One of the biggest problems in Women’s MMA seems to be the lack of “well rounded” fighters. This is more because in terms of a sport Female MMA fighters are more in their “infancy” stage than their male counterparts, not because of some “physical” weakness that some may propose. Most female fighters at this point appear to be good at one aspect of MMA (BJJ, Muay Thai, Boxing, Wrestling, etc…) but do not possess the well rounded skills necessary. Out of all of these skills wrestling may be the most lacking and this is because there is a lack of women wrestlers at the amateur levels when compared to their male counterparts. Gina like many female fighters comes from a striking style background which often does not translate into being able to easily learn a ground game or grappling style. This was apparent in her fight Saturday as she had a dominant position a couple of times and either stood up or Cyborg got out of. But just training extensively in a ground fighting style may not be the only aspect Gina needs to focus on, and that may cause more problems that not translate well into her MMA career.
The major problem that occurred during the fight was two fold for Gina. First Cyborg’s aggressiveness was too much for her to pick a part as was her game plan according to Randy Couture. While this can be countered by skill, Gina’s problem was as stated above; she fell back on her Muay Thai background which is also a strength of Cyborg. A better rounded fighter may have taken the fighter to the ground or used a counter punching style like Anderson Silva or Chuck Liddell to counter an aggressive stand up. But Gina’s style of Muay Thai is straight forward and played into Cyborg’s game plan. It is easy to play Monday Morning quarterback, but the fact is that Gina was loosing the stand up war and had nothing to counter the attack of Cyborg. Many people will suggest more hardcore training in wrestling or BJJ to counter this and both are right, it really just depends on what style fits her more.
The second problem may not be easily rectified and that is Cyborg’s power. Gina’s problem making weight is well documented and truthfully it is really not a “problem” but perhaps a fact of nature. While she fights at 140 pounds, her non-fight weight is somewhat of a mystery. But at 5 foot 8 inches she appears to have a larger frame capable of fighting at a higher weight class. She never looks as lean or cut as Cyborg or other fighters in any of her fights and that may be the issue when it comes to adding more strength and power. By attempting to do so Gina may not be able to fight at 140 as it appears she would probably carry too much muscle on her frame. This is by no means saying that she is fat or soft at 140, but rather a simple fact of nature: muscle fibers are denser than fat cells and there for a smaller amount of muscle cells are denser than fat cells. If Gina were to attempt to pack on more power she would inevitably add more muscle and probably push her out of the weight class. This may present a problem as there is a lack of depth at the higher weight classes in Female MMA, perhaps not a lack of talent, but Fightergirls.com which lists female fighters has only eight fighters listed at 155 for example as opposed to the 14 listed at 140. Unless others drop down or move up a fight at an upper weight class may prove more difficult. Finally, weight cuts can deplete a fighter’s strength and power, as well as energy levels, so any gains may be lost in the cutting process.
Cris Cyborg Santos has the more interesting questions to be answered. Obviously Cris is not going to be marketed the same way as Gina is, but that does not mean her future is not bright. As far as fighting goes she is from a long line of Chute Boxe fighters, both past and present, all of whom have become fan favorites like Wanderlai Silva, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Anderson Silva, and Fabricio Werdum amongst others. Her aggressive style plays well to most MMA fans, both hardcore and casual; especially since her style is striking based and therefore should be a focus of any promotion of her as a fighter. The fact that she finished the most well known and popular fighter in Women’s MMA in the first round should garner her more fame and fortune, as well as fight fans. But is there a way to counter the promotion of Gina Carano’s “face of Women’s MMA” that is available to Santos? Obviously she is not the type to be featured in a pictorial in Maxim Magazine or other publications, so what venue does that leave?
In actuality in today’s day and age Cyborg can follow in the lines of other female athletes like Dara Torres, Serena and Venus Williams, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Florence Griffith-Joyner, etc… Many female athletes face the stigma of being “too muscular” by many, but they are first and foremost athletes and therefore train for high performance in sports. As long as women have been in sports there has been one group who has seen some athletes as being “feminine” and another who perceives some as being “manly,” but it would appear that many are starting to see them as what they really are which is athletes. Will that be for everyone? No. For every person who finds certain women athletes as attractive, there will those who will find them to masculine. That is a subject for another debate, but in Cris Cyborg Santos’ case an appeal as an athlete would go far in her career. There are probably many people male or female that would like to have abs like hers, so a feature of her training in a magazine that would feature such types of articles is not unlikely. She may not be a “supermodel” but nor does she pretend to be.
Female athletes have always had to walk a fine line between competitiveness and being perceived as feminine. During the 1970’s and 1980’s in women’s tennis Martina Navratilova and Chris Everret-Lloyd were two of the more popular female athletes on the planet (Navratilova held a record of 10-4 in head to head match ups), and both had their own fan base. Navratilova was seen as the more “masculine” by some, yet represented the superior athlete to others, while Everett-Lloyd was seen as the representation of “feminine” athletes. The argument continued about feminism and athleticism throughout their career and beyond, because once they had both left the sport newer tennis stars emerged to continue the debate. Now as Women’s MMA begins to garner attention the same debate seems to surface as well. If Cyborg vs. Carano match ups work out like the Everet-Lloyd vs. Navratilova match ups the true winners are the fans. If Carano adjusts her game and comes back stronger it will benefit MMA in general because the sport needs her at the top of her game. But it also needs Cyborg as well. Both fighters appeal to different senses and tastes of the MMA audience and with both of them as dominant forces they will both bring Women’s MMA to higher acceptability.