In the aftermath of Saturday's Strikeforce event, I've been reading headlines about whether women's MMA will still be relevant in the United States following Gina Carano's loss to Cris Cyborg.
The answer is simple: Absolutely. And it only will continue to grow.
Gina Carano undoubtedly got women's MMA to where it currently is in America. But it's going to be a killer like Cyborg that will take it to the next level.
The same appeal that got Cyborg over in the first place - being an unrelenting, wild ass-kicker, will be the same appeal that will keep her as the face of female mixed martial arts in America.
I've been to many sporting events in my life. I've felt the press box shake at Ohio Stadium as Ohio State returned a blocked field goal try for a touchdown at the end of the first half against Michigan State. I saw a crowd explode from the first punch of the fight and count down the final 10 seconds as Randy Couture beat Tim Sylvia at UFC 68. Heck, I was even there when "Stone Cold" Steve Austin drove the Zamboni down the aisle at Joe Louis Arena to attack Vince McMahon.
But what I felt and witnessed Saturday night at HP Pavilion in San Jose was one of the biggest crowd reactions I've ever been apart of. And while the reaction to Carano was bone rattling, Cyborg was recognized by the crowd as half of the dynamic that led to this fight and rightfully so. She wasn't Gegard Mousasi - someone who could be top-10 in the world now but nobody knows. She was a star.
And don't forget this: Cristiane Santos was the second biggest star on Saturday's show. The reactions she and Carano received blew everyone else on the card out of the water. The fans were there to see that fight, as were the people watching on television. You don't get a star reaction like that one night and then have your popularity fall off the face of the planet the next.
I cannot stress enough how dynamic these reactions were on that night. And these weren't one-time pops that died down. The crowd was standing and making noise the entire fight. In fact, had Carano won, the roof likely would've blown off HP Pavilion.
And you know why that is? It's because they viewed Cyborg as a legitimate badass who had a very real chance of killing Carano, which is exactly what happened. People cared about Cyborg. They cared about Carano. With a win like she had Saturday, interest is only going to keep growing.
Cris Cyborg is here to stay.
I'd be willing to wager that Showtime set a record for an MMA audience Saturday night. Like the UFC with Brock Lesnar and so many others before it, many of those first-time watchers are going to see Cris Cyborg as the biggest thing out there. She went out there and destroyed the woman believed by the fans to be the biggest and best in the sport.
It doesn't matter what you look like. All that matters is that you win and win in devastating fashion. If Cyborg can keep doing that, she will be the most popular fighter Strikeforce has. In fact, she could be right now. Only Fedor Emelianenko has the potential to surpass her, but without appearances on network television, that's going to be tough to do.
Those who cheered and loved Carano aren't going to hate Cyborg - they are going to love Cyborg. And when she gets back on CBS - the same entity that made her a star in the first place and set up this fight - she will be one of the top 10 most popular fighters in the sport.