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History in the Making: 'Cyborg' Santos takes the face of women's MMA and smashes it in

Photo via Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images
Photo via Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images

Gina Carano was the face of women's mixed martial arts (MMA). That is until Cristiane Santos smashed it in.

"Crush" was riding high on a seven fight win streak including a bout for the Strikeforce and four under the EliteXC banner. Two of those fights for the defunct promotion were aired on CBS and seen by millions of people.

Quite literally, Carano was the most recognizable women's fighter on the planet. After one round with "Cyborg," she wasn't all that recognizable ... at least for a week or two until her bruises healed up and the swelling went down.

The Dallas, Texas native hasn't stepped inside the cage since -- it seems the fight was literally beaten out of her -- but Santos managed to defend her title twice more in equally brutal fashion. A bad batch of contract negotiations have kept the champ out of the cage since the middle of last year but with a new deal in hand, she is set to return this weekend (Dec. 17).

At Strikeforce: "Melendez vs. Masvidal," the Brazilian will make what will likely be the last 145-pound title defense as she will be dropping 10 pounds because Strikeforce looks to shut the doors on her talent shallow weight class. Her opponent will be Hiroko Yamanaka, a veteran of the Japanese Jewels and Smackgirl promotions. Will she be up to the challenge in her stateside debut?

If "Cyborg" unleashes anything like she did in her bout with Carano, it will be a long night for "Incomplete Queen."

Let's take a closer look at the one round mugging.

Immediately the Brazilian walks her opponent down, backing Carano against the cage and unloading with a quick two-punch combination. A leg kick smashes across the American's shin as her opponents opens up with yet another striking combination that keeps "Crush" on the defensive.

Carano clinches up to avoid more damage before "Cyborg" botches a throw attempt and ends up on her own back with Carano unleashing some ground and pound from above. The Brazilian threatens with a heel hook submission but "Crush" is able to wiggle from from her grasp.

During the ensuing scramble, Santos is able to latch onto Carano's back and works towards another submission attempt, this one a rear naked choke before quickly giving it up and deciding to brutalize her opponent with punches instead.

We're only a half minute in at this point and just about every member of the audience is going completely out of their mind.

Carano tries to get back to her feet but she's immediately dragged down to the mat by the stronger Santos. More ground and pound from the Brazilian follows until "Crush" finally gets herself vertical. She eats a combination of punches for her trouble as she is once again backed up against the fence.

The two enter into an exchange but eventually the American must cover up for protection. Another clinch and another awful throw attempt from Santos leads to Carano actually getting full mount. Her opponent wiggling underneath her, the former American Gladiator opts to back up and deliver her strikes from a standing position. Unfortunately for her, it also gives Santos the opportunity to get back to her feet.

Carano immediately rushes "Cyborg" as she does and grinds her up against the cage. They shove off of each other and a more polished stand up battle begins. The American actually scores well a couple of times, sticking a stiff jab right into Santos' face on more than one occasion.

But a body kick attempt falls short for Carano. It's caught by the Brazilian and used to back her up against the cage, where "Cyborg" begins to dig in with short punches. Santos delivers a brutal knee to Carano's ribcage that temporarily drops the woman and it ends up being the snowball that turns into an avalanche.

After getting some distance between them, Carano gasps for air as nearly all the energy has been sapped from her body. The fight tempo slows which actually benefits Santos who can now pick her strikes more carefully.

The Brazilian continues to bully her opponent around the cage before ending up on top of her with less than a minute remaining in the opening round. "Crush" rolls out of a keylock submission attempt but can't stop the hammer-like punches -- almost too many to count -- that land without retribution.

Perched on top of her opponent, "Cyborg" rains down blow after blow until the referee jumps in to stop the fight. The horn indicating the end of the round sounds almost simultaneously but any outrage over the stoppage comes from only the staunchest Carano supporters.

Santos beat her pillar to pillar and there was no two ways around it. She proved that women's MMA doesn't need a face, it simply needs good fights.

Santos hopes to replicate that performance en route to her new home at 135-pounds. Should she be able to make the cut, her addition to the weight class -- along with Ronda Rousey -- makes for some interesting match-ups for any promotion that chooses to host them.

Will it be Strikeforce or the UFC?

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