SAN JOSE, Calif. - What was billed as the biggest fight in female MMA history didn't disappoint.
Ultimately, though, hard-hitting Brazilian Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos proved too powerful for the previously unbeaten Gina Carano and delivered the face of women's MMA a first-round beating to win Strikeforce's first-ever 145-pound title.
The headliner, which was a milestone event for the sport and especially women's MMA, took place in front of 13,524 spectators at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif., and aired on Showtime.
The match-up between North America's two most notable female fighters had been teased for more than a year by the now-defunct EliteXC promotion. It'd take nearly a year for Strikeforce to sign both fighters and set up the match-up that many believed would usher women's MMA into the mainstream.
With a live Showtime audience and unparalleled media attention, Santos took control in the striking department early in the fight. Carano hung tough for the first few minutes of the scheduled five-rounder and landed more than a couple solid shots. She also masterfully escaped from ankle-lock and keylock submission attempts but couldn't maintain the few times she garnered dominant ground positions.
Carano, though, turned up the power late in the round.
After Carano landed on her back, Santos stood over her opponent and rained down a series of blows. While initially covering up, Carano's defenses weakened as the timekeeper signaled the 10-second warning. With the seconds ticking by, referee Josh Rosenthal warned Carano to fight back as she absorbed a steady stream of punches. But a split second before the round ended, he waved off the fight and awarded Santos the TKO victory.
The official stoppage came at 4:59 of that opening frame.
While there was some initial confusion over whether or not Carano had been saved by the bell, the end was evident when her corner man, UFC legend Randy Couture, entered the cage to tend to the fighter.
Santos (8-1), who's now won eight straight fights since a submission loss in her pro debut, credited the win to the intense training camps she's had since that first and only defeat.
"The key for tonight was five years of training," said Santos, who continually thanked the fans, Strikeforce and Showtime for the opportunity.
Carano, meanwhile, falls to 7-1 and snaps a seven-fight winning streak.
Luckily for the Xtreme Couture fighter, though, she kept the bout close enough and could conceivably earn an immediate title shot with Santos, the first female champion in a major U.S. organization.