Heading into Saturday night's Strikeforce Challengers card there were some small rumblings from MMA fans that 135 pound champion Sarah Kaufman was being mistreated by being stuck in the co-main event spot of a second tier show. Matt Bishop of MMA For Real expressed those concerns before the event:
The card, which features a Strikeforce women's welterweight championship fight between Sarah Kaufman and Roxanne Modafferi, is headlined by a heavyweight bout between Shane del Rosario and Lolohea Mahe.
That's right, a fight featuring one of Strikeforce's championships is not going on last, continuing the pattern of disrespect shown by Strikeforce and Showtime to its women's division, and in particular Kaufman, who after winning her title in the main event of a Challengers show, is back defending on a Challengers show and isn't even in the main event.
Those rumblings turned into a roar after Kaufman dispatched of challenger Roxy Modafferi via a slam knockout in the third round. Check it out:
Sarah would get on the mic after the bout and declare that she deserves to be on the main shows for Strikeforce and many MMA fans agreed that as she is a champion she should be treated like every other champion. This would seem to ignore the realities of dealing with televised sports being entertainment also, but I'll come back to that later.
The debate over Sarah's post fight comments and placement in Strikeforce really picked up steam when Jonathan Snowden penned a piece that included:
A woman who saw the crowd abandon the building like it was on fire in her last fight, in a sport that has seen a grand total of one woman able to draw a significant audience, was actually complaining about Strikeforce putting her in the co-main event of a nationally televised card. The ego on display there is staggering.
Numbers talk. And Kaufman's main event at Challengers 6 against Hashi was watched by just 150,000 fans. The next two Challengers shows doubled that number. Kaufman is in the right place-with other prospective stars looking to attract a following. And the Challengers cards are actually an enormous opportunity for Kaufman and other main eventers in these under the radar cards.
If she was stuck as the opening act of a five fight card featuring Fedor Emelianenko, Dan Henderson, or other Strikeforce fighters with mega wattage star power like Nick Diaz, no one would have talked about her for even a moment leading into the show. Instead, she was a major part of a slow news week. It's the perfect role for her, an opportunity to be the focal point of one of the promotion's nationally televised shows.
Others, such as Donna from Gal's Guide to MMA, feel that champion-is-champion-is-champion so treat them no differently. From a comment by Donna:
One of the problems that I see here is the fact that Strikeforce created the welterweight division without the talent to back it up. BUT, they did create the division, so they should be promoting it as they do every other championship fight. By giving this fight a back seat, they're kinda saying that it doesn't matter all that much. If the organization doesn't care about it, why should we?
Sarah was put in the main event of the last card she was on (also a Challengers event) and cleared out the building and pulled in a rating 50% lower than the next two events. Strikeforce had learned that Sarah Kaufman in a main event probably wasn't going to work, so they attempted something different. It may turn out that they were wrong with this also and they'll have to re-think what to do long term.
The truth is, there is no blueprint for promoting WMMA without a star like Gina Carano or, to a lesser extent, Cyborg Santos. Strikeforce is trying to find their way on this and will probably make a few bad decisions. The truth just is that Kaufman in the co-main event of this past card was not a mistake.