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“Strikeforce: Melendez vs. Masvidal” preview – Cris “Cyborg” Santos vs. Hiroko Yamanaka

Strikeforce women's featherweight champ Cris "Cyborg" Santos (left) puts her title on the line against Japan's Hiroko Yamanaka on Saturday, Dec. 17, LIVE on Showtime.

This Saturday night, Dec. 17, Strikeforce will close out their 2011 season LIVE on Showtime with “Melendez vs. Masvidal” from Valley View Casino Center in San Diego, Calif., starting at 10 p.m. ET/PT. The event is headlined with Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez defending his title against American Top Team’s Jorge Masvidal.

ProMMAnow.com (www.prommanow.com) continues with our previews of each of the main card bouts by examining the co-main event title fight between Strikeforce women’s 145 pound champion Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos and Japan’s Hiroko Yamanaka, who is making her Strikeforce debut.

Strikeforce women’s 145-pound championship

Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos (10-1, 4-0 SF)

Female MMA fans can only hope 2012 is a better year for its premiere star than 2011 has been. Not because Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos lost, but because contract negotiations, opponent issues and the sale of Strikeforce have kept her sidelined for approximately a year-and-a-half.

Sadly, this will be her first fight since June 2010 when she knocked out Jan Finney with a knee to the body in the second round. Prior to that, she took out Marloes Coenen via third round TKO in January 2010 in her first title defense, and before that, she won Strikeforce’s first female featherweight championship with a first round TKO win over Gina Carano in August 2009.

Starting with Hitomi Akano in April 2009, “Cyborg” has knocked out every woman Strikeforce has placed in front of her. Her strength and punching power has overwhelmed her opponents almost to the point at times that it seemed unfair, as if it was a woman fighting girls.

She is not afraid to take a few punches to give a few back, because it is almost as if she knows these women can not hurt her. She chews them up and spits them out like Matt Hughes with a new can of Skoal. And at only 26-years-old, “Cyborg” could reign for many years to come.

Hiroko “Incomplete Queen” Yamanaka (12-1, 0-0 SF)

Will Hiroko Yamanaka fair any different than “Cyborg’s” past Strikeforce opponents? She does have one thing they have not had, a significant height advantage. At 33-years-old, Yamanaka stands at nearly six-feet tall, and as the former Smackgirl open weight champion, she has won her last eight fights in a row.

Yamanaka’s entire career has been fought in Japan. Not only will this be her first fight for Strikeforce, it will be her first fight in the United States and likely her first time fighting in a cage. One can only hope she at least got some training inside a cage in before the fight (Update: In a pre-fight interview, Yamanaka confirmed they have a cage in her gym and she is prepared for it).

Yamanaka is capable on the ground and on her feet, and there is the potential for her reach to give “Cyborg” trouble. She is not spectacular in any one area but fairly well-rounded and most of her wins have been by decision.

One thing to consider though is Yamanaka has been a lot more active than “Cyborg” the past couple years. “Cyborg” has fought only twice in the past two years, and both those fights were in 2010. Yamanaka has fought five times in the past two years and three times in the last year-and-a-half since “Cyborg” has been on the bench.

Fight Odds

“Cyborg” hits a lot harder and is a lot stronger than Yamanaka. If Hitomi Akano could take Yamanaka down basically at will, “Cyborg” will likely be able to throw her around like a rag doll.

Oddsmakers are not giving Yamanaka much of a chance, that is for sure. BetUS.com has her listed at +550, while “Cyborg” is the heavy heavy favorite at -900.

See ProMMAnow.com’s (www.prommanow.com) other “Strikeforce: Melendez vs. Masvidal” fight card previews.

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