Explosive female featherweight Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos’ absence from the ring has been well-documented. A winner of ten straight since falling in her debut more than six years ago, Santos was in the midst of tearing through competition in Strikeforce when a contractual dispute stymied her progress and kept her out of action for nearly eighteen months.

Tonight the 26-year old will make her return, defending her divisional belt against 12-1 grappler Hiroko Yamanaka at Strikeforce: Melendez vs. Masvidal. While she is certainly excited about getting back in the cage after such a long break, the main source of her enthusiasm appears to be more about what the fight will mean to others rather than to her personally.

“Even before thinking about winning the fight, I want to put on a really, really good show, and definitely for the fans, I’m going to go beyond any expectations,” said Santos in an interview with Strikeforce’s website.

It’s not just the fans Santos wants to perform for but also the faceless legion of young women across the world who are actively fighting but haven’t received the same level of attention or opportunity based on the profile of women’s MMA compared to that of it’s male-driven counterpart.

“I was really frustrated (by the layoff), especially because I was always fighting very hard to try to put the best show on. I’m always working to get female MMA to grow, and I want to see more girls fighting and I want to grow the event and make it better by giving the best show I can,” the popular pugilist continued. “So I was definitely frustrated with the big gap between fights because I always expect to fight three or four times a year if possible. But I never gave up, and I never stopped training.”

Santos also spoke about potentially dropping down to 135 pounds based on the increased competition, as the lack of comparably skilled featherweights played a major role in her involuntary vacation from MMA. However, again thinking of others before herself, “Cyborg” deferred to the need to allow women to grow both in profile and experience by promoting their divisions more heavily.

“In my mind, it’s a mix of two things. I agree that it’s hard to find someone that has a good record that can come up and fight, so maybe the belt is a bit of a burden because you need someone who has the qualifications to fight for the belt. But at the same time, female MMA needs to be promoted, so before the girls get to the point where they have a good record and everything, we need to have more fights so the crowds will be bigger and female MMA will grow.”

Fans can catch Santos defend her belt tonight when the Strikeforce broadcast starts up on Showtime at 10:30 PM EST. The card is headlined by lightweight title-holder Gilbert Melendez putting his gold up for grabs against polished striker Jorge Masvidal.


MMATraining Take: From all accounts Santos is a terrific person and this latest interview is testament to that. In a way she almost seems like a female version of Wanderlei Silva – she’s ferocious, she’s intimidating, and yet she appears to have a heart of gold. Win or lose this evening (I see the result involving the former) it should be very interesting to see what her next move is.