History in the making: Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate fill the void left by Gina Carano and Cyborg Santos

Greg Bartram-US PRESSWIRE

"A woman is like a tea bag. You can't tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water." --Eleanor Roosevelt

When female mixed martial arts (MMA) phenom Gina Carano was obliterated by Cristiane Justino back in late 2009, she took her ball and went home.

That left "Cyborg" in charge.

The Brazilian, however, went and got herself suspended for one year by flunking a post-fight steroids test following her attempted murder of Hiroko Yamanaka. The Strikeforce women's division -- the only one of its kind on television -- was no more.

Sure, there were talented and capable female fighters like Marloes Coenen and Sarah Kaufman, among others, but you couldn't headline a major event with any of those ladies, because they just didn't have the necessary "it" factor when it came to main stream audiences.

And not everybody was a fan of female fighting.

Then came a twinkly-eyed wrestler with unassuming good looks named Miesha Tate, who cut her teeth in the "Challengers" portion of the Strikeforce brand, designed to let up-and-comers pay their dues before getting called up to the big leagues.

After a debut loss to the aforementioned Kaufman -- three months before "Carano vs. Cyborg" on Showtime -- Tate went on a torrid 6-0 run, which culminated with a championship win over Coenen. It was a gutsy performance that established her as Carano's successor.

There was no reason to believe otherwise.

That's because Ronda Rousey was only two fights into her professional career and had yet to make her Strikeforce debut. That bout came at Challengers 18 less than two weeks after "Takedown" (as she was then called) wrangled "Rumina" and lasted just 25 seconds.

Not bad for a rookie.

Then came another ... then another.

In the span of just eight months, Rousey had parlayed her Olympic medal into a flawless combat sports career. Now 4-0, the judoka had yet to see any fight last more than 49 seconds. But just as importantly, she could talk, and was not afraid to ruffle a few feathers.

From January 2012:

"Sarah Kaufman kind of gives boring interviews, she's not a supermodel and the way she fights, she doesn't finish matches in extraordinary fashion. It's just kind of being realistic. I'm sorry that I have to say things bluntly and offend some people. I just want there to be a highly marketable, exciting women's title fight."

She got one.

Rousey's comments did not sit well with the champion, who thought it was "silly" that "Rowdy" was getting a title shot without beating a top contender. The challenger, however, was looking at the bigger picture and with ZUFFA purchasing its West Coast rival, it was time to strike while the iron was hot.

Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker agreed.

Once again the San Jose-based fight promotion would send two women into the main event, with circumstances not unlike the first go-round between Carano and Cyborg. The stage was set for March 3, 2012, inside the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio.

And it ended badly. Very badly.

The event was a success, outdrawing "Feijao vs. Henderson," and Rousey had established herself as the most dominant female fighter in the game. But for Tate, it was a devastating loss. Not just because she had failed to deliver on her promise to "come in with a vengeance," but also because her arm was pretzel'd on live television.

The images (see them here) are still difficult to look at.

But every dark cloud, as they say, has a silver lining. Rousey's prophecy about women's MMA came true, thanks to the media hype her "Cupcake" fight was able to generate. That was a fact not lost on UFC President Dana White, who swore he would never entertain the idea of women fighting.

At least not until Rousey and Tate proved it could make money.

Their Strikeforce rivalry (with moments like this) overflowed into the drains of social media. From there, it grabbed a mesmerized fan base with its rapid current, one that continues to speed toward an inevitable rematch in the UFC 168 co-main event this Saturday night (Dec. 28, 2013) in Las Vegas, Nevada.

That's where these two fighters will finish what they started.

And what they started is an entire division in UFC. Even Rousey, for as much as she loathes her fellow Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 18 coach, admits that without her, there would be no women's 135-pound weight class. At least not inside the Octagon, which can make it difficult to stay relevant.

Just ask Cyborg.

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