NEW YORK -- Since first watching each other fight, Gina Carano and Cristiane “Cyborg” Santosseem to have known that they would meet inside a cage.“The first time I saw (Cyborg) fight live, I was overwhelmed by the intensity of her style and the way she performed,” Carano said Tuesday at a Strikeforce news conference held at the WaMu Theatre at Madison Square Garden. “I knew that she would definitely be somebody that could be one of the best in the world. I want to fight the best.”So does Santos. She joined Carano last year in EliteXC and made a matchup against her a goal.Of course EliteXC crumbled before the fight could come together. Strikeforce has reassembled the two key pieces, though, and the Carano-Cyborg 145-pound title fight scheduled to air live on Showtime Aug. 15 from the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif., is being billed as the biggest bout in the history of women’s mixed martial arts.Hence an unconventional news conference in Manhattan. First the fighters were introduced to journalists and fans in a typical conference setting; then the show went outside, to the corner of 8th Avenue and 33rd Street, where the women worked out in a cage.The Empire State Building and Madison Square Garden served as the backdrop while Cyborg tossed around her husband, Evangelista Santos. He got up quickly; the black Rockstar Energy Drink logo on the center of the mat was scorching hot in the July sun.Pedestrians stopped for a look. Tour buses slowed for red lights and afforded passengers a view. Mauro Ranallo, armed with a microphone, implored all gawkers to push for the legalization of “MMA in NYC” and to tune in Aug. 15 for Carano-Cyborg.It was a good turnout, and the crowd stuck around for some time to see Carano’s brief workout on Thai pads held by Phil Nurse. The session prompted murmurs that Carano can’t match Cyborg’s power or aggression. Truth is, the exhibitions were purposefully light and not much happened other than both women got the hell off that Rockstar logo each time they torched their toes on it.
Carano did address Cyborg’s strengths during the presser, however. She countered the prevailing notion that the fight pits her technique against Cyborg’s power.“In my head at least, it’s not technique versus power,” Carano said. “I know that’s the way people see it maybe. But I feel like I have a lot of power and I have technique, and she has a lot of power and she has technique. We’re not going to know how powerful we are or technical we are until we get in there. Once we feel it, then we’ll know.”Between now and then, both women will be balancing their training with plenty of PR. Santos already sees where many storylines will go.“This doesn’t bother her, the fact that all the media, almost all the media, thinks that it’s like Beauty and the Beast,” Santos’ interpreter said. “For her it doesn’t matter because the important time is inside the (cage).”Appearances will be a frequent topic as the fight approaches. Sure, there are some superficial contrasts (one woman was wearing designer jeans and a black leather jacket Tuesday while the other showed off a cool Chute Boxe tattoo on her leg). But for fight fans, these differences aren’t as interesting as those of a pugilistic variety.“When it comes down to it, it’s a fight,” Carano said when asked how she deals with remarks that focus on her looks. “You don’t leave the fight thinking, ‘Oh, how beautiful that person was.’ Usually you think, ‘Oh my gosh, that person has skills.’ Or, ‘That person got jacked.’ So thank you for your compliments, but that’s definitely not going to help anybody out in the cage.”Regardless of how they’re portrayed over the next month as their showdown approaches, Carano and Cyborg believe they’re moving women’s MMA a long stride forward. They seem eager in their roles but not necessarily comfortable. One of Carano’s first comments Tuesday was that she doesn’t enjoy public speaking. Cyborg said the same. Yet between grinning and laughing awkwardly through an hour of questions and answers, they had no trouble articulating their hopes to catapult women’s MMA.Carano testified to the talent already present in the sport that deserves recognition. Cyborg discussed influencing a generation of “Little Cyborgs.” For two women who can’t understand each other’s native tongue and are about to meet in a cage, they seem to agree on a lot.
But then the language of fighting is universal, and Carano and Cyborg speak it fluently.