Before “The Last Emperor” Fedor Emelianenko (31-3) steps into the cage to face the dangerous for all the same reasons “Hendo” Dan Henderson (27-8), Strikeforce will treat the Windy City to a dose of mixed martial arts action featuring “Hands of Steel” Scott Smith (16-8), Tarec Saffiedine (10-2), “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler (18-7-1), Tim Kennedy (14-3), “Semtex” Paul Daley (24-11-2), and “T-Wood” Tyron Woodley (10-0). Joining this stellar cast of warriors are the ladies who make up the co-main event, Women’s Welterweight Champion Marloes Coenen (17-4) and her challenger “Takedown” Miesha Tate (11-2). Coenen failed in her run at 145lbs. but dropped to the welterweight division and submitted two previously undefeated fighters in former champion Sarah Kaufman (14-1) and “Girl-Rilla” Liz Carmouche (3-1). Tate, for her part, won her way into title contention by returning to the Challengers Series with a three-fight win streak that saw her defeat two top opponents in one night. The match means the world to WMMA, as the womens’ place on the primary Zuffa roster rests squarely on the sustainability of the women’s welterweight division. After the performance Kaufman put on last Friday, these ladies will have to bring their A-game to prove that there is more than one 135er with the skills to interest the MMA world at large and, more importantly, the Zuffa brass that decides whether the ladies stay on the Strikeforce main card or find themselves sent back to a niche market appeal on the Challengers Series.
At First Glance: This bout is one that holds a two-fold benefit for Miesha Tate should she manage to get past the champ. Next in line for the belt is most certainly Sarah Kaufman, one of only two women to defeat Tate. Should she be victorious, Tate will win not only the title, but also a chance for revenge. Coenen for her part has proven untouchable at 135lbs. and looks to keep it that way. For WMMA fans, they need an exciting high-paced fight from both ladies to get what they are looking for because lay-and-pray fest, timid stand-up affair, or another one-sided beating like the one Kaufman handed Carmouche likely will not have the desired effect on the Zuffa brass.
In Depth: This fight is a classic example of the one-dimensional wrestler taking on a complete mixed martial artist in the hopes that she can control the position long enough to get to judges’ nod. Tate was an accomplished high school wrestler and took those tools into an MMA career that has seen her take the majority of her bouts against credible opponents the entire distance. Coenen, while passive on the mat, is a stone cold finisher, with just one of her victories found on a judge’s card. On the feet, Coenen is an aggressive combination striker similar to Sarah Kaufman, who defeated Tate soundly by stuffing her repeated takedown attempts and battering her with punches. Tate can find solace in the fact that Coenen is a very passive grappler. She often allows her opponents to work their ground-and-pound freely as she covers and waits for an opportunity to slip around a limb or neck. As a result, she doesn’t expend an inordinate amount of energy fighting takedowns and will gladly give Tate the top position she wants. This style often makes it appear Coenen is in trouble, as it did against Carmouche, when in fact she is not really all that worse for wear and is a real submission threat. That passive method, where Coenen never fights for a submission but rather lets it come, is the perfect way to catch a pure wrestler like Tate.
Wild Card: As her nickname suggests, Tate has a very powerful double-leg and a solid single-leg to back it up. She is also an accomplished amateur wrestler who is very good at controlling position. If she can get to side control, she can easily ride the clock without taking too many risks against Coenen’s submission skills. Her takedowns should also be assisted by the very nature of her opponent. Coenen strikes aggressively, leaving plenty of solid openings for the shoot, and she grapples passively, meaning she is just as likely to pull guard as she is to attempt to stuff the takedown. If Tate focuses on positional wrestling as opposed to ground-and-pound, she could take Coenen to a decision with ease.
The Verdict: Many years ago, male mixed martial artists figured out that a one-dimensional fighter can’t compete at the highest levels. The ladies have yet to reach those higher levels but Coenen is damn close to it. Just as it was against Kaufman, Tate’s one-trick pony approach will prove her undoing. Look for the commentators to go nuts over the “total control” Tate has over the champion for several rounds as she sits calmly under Tate and waits for the challenger to leave an arm hanging. After that, Tate will play a three-tap symphony and that will be all she wrote. Coenen via Submission (Armbar), Round 3