Champ Cyborg Santos Wants Strikeforce Challenges at Bantamweight as Well as Featherweight

Cris "Cyborg" Santos

145-pound champ considering move down to 135

After a year and a half without any in-cage challenges, Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos wants to double up.

The Strikeforce women’s featherweight champ has been on the sidelines since June 2010 thanks to lengthy contract negotiations. Saturday, she returns to defend her 145-pound title against Hiroko Yamanaka in her own backyard in San Diego – while Yamanaka fights for the first time outside her native Japan.

But last week on a media call, Santos said she sees the writing on the wall in Strikeforce’s 145-pound division – and there might not be many options for her to defend her title against. There are certainly more in the suddenly bustling 135-pound class, and Santos believes she can drop down for fights at bantamweight, as well as featherweight.

“I want to try to do both weight classes, if possible,” Santos said through her translator. “But I know there will be more opportunities at 135.”

Santos (10-1, 4-0 Strikeforce) has not lost since the first fight of her professional career, which took place in her native Brazil. Since then, it’s been six years of dominance, with only two opponents taking her the distance. Her four Strikeforce wins have all been by fairly brutal stoppage, including a first-round TKO of Gina Carano to win the title in August 2009.

At 135, Santos would be going after current champion Miesha Tate, who beat Marloes Coenen for the title in July. But also in the division are former titleholder Sarah Kaufman and fast-rising quick-stop armbar artist Ronda Rousey, who is expected to drop to bantamweight to go after Tate, as well.

Santos said she used the long layoff to hone her skills in multiple areas, even though she wasn’t training for any specific fight.

“I feel I’ve gotten better at jiu-jitsu – I’ve been staying competitive in that aspect,” Santos said. “I’ve been working on my boxing and striking, and I’m more well-rounded as a fighter now than I was before.”

Yamanaka (12-1) has been on a tear of her own – though largely unknown about outside Japan. The 33-year-old has been competing primarily for Japan’s Jewels women’s MMA promotion.

But Yamanaka said she isn’t worried about U.S. fans not knowing who she is before the Showtime broadcast Saturday night.

“I don’t feel like I’m overlooked or anything,” Yamanaka said through her translator. “The only thing I have to do is win this fight – that’s all. I do feel that my experience will be an advantage to me. I had a lot of good experience leading into this fight.”

And if things go as planned for Yamanaka, fight fans outside Japan might not know who she is on Saturday, but they’ll know who she is on Sunday.

“I just want American fans to know I’m coming to win this fight,” Yamanaka said. “And I’m going to walk out of the cage with the championship belt.”

Strikeforce: Melendez vs. Masvidal features a main event lightweight title fight between champion Gilbert Melendez and challenger Jorge Masvidal. The co-main event is the women’s featherweight title fight between Santos and Yamanaka. Also on the card, former light heavyweight champion Gegard Mousasi fights Ovince St. Preux, and KJ Noons meets Billy Evangelista at lightweight. The main card airs live on Showtime at 10:30 p.m. Eastern.

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