Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos has always been the type of MMA fighter who was like a speeding train that steamrolled over all opponents who stood before her. Since becoming a professional fighter, Santos has amassed a fight record of 10-1. These fights have been clear, decisive and left no doubt who was the superior athlete. MMA’s darling Gina Carano may have been the most popular among fans, mainly because of her attractive features, but it was Santos who proved that ability and skill was highly valued over good looks and a popularity contest.
So, when Santos beat Carano in August 2009, by technical knockout in the first round, she stripped the Strikeforce’s 145-pound women’s title away from Carano. Since that fight, Carano hasn’t returned to the cage. Now, she is off in Hollywood making movies. Meanwhile, Santos has continued her destruction as she toppled everyone she encountered in the cage.
However, there have always been those who doubted Santos’ superior strength, power and muscularity were natural. Steroid speculation has dogged Santos since she signed on with Strikeforce, but she has never failed a test. But when Santos was stripped of her 11th win (and fifth straight win in Strikeforce) against Hiroko Yamanaka for testing positive for steroids, many people weren’t surprised. When Santos knocked out Yamanaka in December 2011 in only 16-seconds in the first round, people cheered. She was already regarded as the sport’s top female fighter, but now Santos was becoming popular with MMA fans.
Due to Santos’ failed drug test The California State Athletic Commission suspended her for one year, stripped her title and issued a $2,500 fine. Her victory over Yamanaka was ruled a no contest.
“Our primary concern is for the health and safety of fighters,” CSAC Executive Officer George Dodd stated. “Anabolic agents and other banned substances put not only the users of those agents at risk, but their opponents as well. The commission simply will not tolerate their use.”
In her defense, Cyborg stated in a press release that it was a supplement that she used in the assistance of weight cutting that was to blame for the positive test result. She went on to say:
“I would like to sincerely apologize to StrikeForce, the Zuffa organization, Hioko Yamanaka and my fans for my failed drug test.” … “I will do everything I can to show my fans that I can still compete at the professional level without the use of any prohibited substances, and ask God’s forgiveness for my mistake.”
Will The Controversy Hurt Women’s MMA?
Does this smear against Santos hold much weight in women’s MMA? Several MMA male fighters, including Josh Barnett, Tim Sylvia, Nate Marquardt, Vitor Belfort, Stephan Bonnar, Royce Gracie, Chris Leben, Ken Shamrock, Thiago Silva, among others, have also tested positive for banned illegal substances, but this hasn’t hurt their careers. So, the question is – Is there a double standard for female fighters? Will this controversy hurt WMMA?
Here’s the problem – there are only two women divisions in Strikeforce, bantamweight and featherweight. Plus, Strikeforce is the only major backer of WMMA. With Carano off in Hollywood, Santos was the only woman in the 145 pound division that anybody cared about and now she is out for a year. Even when Santos returns to the cage, people will wonder if her past achievements in MMA were a result of steroids.
Up until this point, women’s mixed martial arts was having a difficult time gaining support from many fans, men who don’t think women should fight, some MMA organizations, and even UFC President Dana White, who told ESPN Radio that Cyborg’s positive test “pretty much kills the 145 pound division.”
Without a doubt Santos being away from the sport for a year will definitely hurt WMMA. There are no other elite female fighters in that division. This could pose a problem for Strikeforce when their contract is up with Showtime. Without a strong presence and excitement which Santos provided, their contract may not get renewed.
Can WMMA Recover?
Although the 145 pound division may be lacking at this time there are other great female fighters in MMA, like Tara LaRosa, Meisha Tate, Ronda Rousey (see image on right), Jessica Aguilar, Carina Damm, and others. They are thriving in this sport and making a name for themselves, proving that MMA isn’t just for men. More and more females are training in mixed martial arts. The problem is, other than the superstars, most females don’t get the support, promotion and publicity they need. Still, with or without Santos, female MMA fighters plan to continue working their way into the hearts of people all around the world and prove they deserve a spot as MMA champion fighters.
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