“I think I’m a completely different fighter than three years ago,” she told MMAjunkie.com Radio (www.mmajunkie.com/radio). “We work out with a group of 12 to 15 persons. Every body goes deep and everybody is screaming and sweating. That’s so much better.
“When I look in the mirror, I see a difference in my muscles.”
Coenen underestimated the Brazilian fighter’s strength when they first met and paid the price with a third-round TKO loss to “Cyborg” in the now-defunct Strikeforce. It was her first opportunity to win a major title.
She doesn’t plan on falling back again.
“['Cyborg'] completely out-powered me,” she said about their January 2010 fight. “I was like, ‘Ah, the girl looks tough, I can handle that.’ Until I was in the cage, and she really smashed my face in.”
More specifically, she said her face was like “jello pudding.” But it was also was something of a badge of honor for Coenen, who held up longer amid the onslaught of Santos’ ferocious punches, unlike countless others.
“I really felt good about it,” Coenen said. “I proved to myself that I was a true fighter and didn’t give up.”
Coenen would go to drop weight and win the Strikeforce bantamweight title before losing to Miesha Tate. She then was a casualty of a dispute between her management and the promotion’s parent, Zuffa, and was released from her contract.
But she never lost sight of being able to avenge her loss to Santos. Now, she gets that chance and another to win an inaugural featherweight title at Invicta FC 6, which takes place Saturday at Ameristar Casino in Kansas City, Mo. The event airs live on pay-per-view.
Three years later, Coenen (21-5) and Santos (11-1) are no longer under the Zuffa umbrella. Santos was stripped of her belt when she tested positive for steroids and spent two years on the bench with a suspension and period of contractual limbo.
The two are the highest-ranked fighters in the all-women promotion’s heaviest ranks, and their rematch brings a luster to the event that might otherwise be lacking with the bulk of notable female talent residing in the UFC in the bantamweight class.
Although she could return to 135 pounds, Coenen isn’t clamoring to fight in the UFC like some of her counterparts. She leaves her future in the hands of Invicta promoter Shannon Knapp, with whom she worked closely while the two worked under the Strikeforce banner.
“I’m signed exclusively (to Invicta FC) for North America,” Coenen said. “It’s all up to Shannon; she’s my boss and she decides where I fight.”
Until recently, Invicta streamed all of its events online and charged a small fee to watch. Now, the promotion is making the jump to pay-per-view, which would bring a great windfall if self-reported numbers from its early events are matched, or it could potentially put the organization deeply in the hole.
So far, a TV deal has yet to materialize, as Knapp wants to make sure it will secure Invicta’s long-term future. A barnburner fight between Santos and Coenen undoubtedly would help to keep doors open, though the reality is that gap between major events and small players is bigger than ever, which makes network interest tough to attract.
Coenen, of course, is simply focused on putting on the best performance possible and avenging a loss. Santos hasn’t been defeated since her first pro fight and looks no less devastating than when they first met, so she’s got her work cut out for her.
At Invicta’s most recent event, she sought the advice of a common opponent, Fiona Muxlow, who had lost to them both and said Santos was 20 percent more powerful.
“I was like, ‘OK, that’s do-able with a good strength and conditioning program,’” Coenen said. “I think that’s a big difference. In the first fight, I didn’t think she was more technical than I was. Actually, I think I was.”
Now, it’s a matter of matching that strength and defeating it with skill.
“To me, this is the biggest fight of my life,” Coenen said. “I believe I’m the first fighter that got defeated by ‘Cyborg’ and is stepping up again. I think that’s a big deal. It’s the first belt that Invicta has at 145.
“I’ve gotten a lot of questions from journalists, like, what do you feel about the rest of this card? But I’ve been focusing so hard on this fight. I’ve been living like a monk, and I’ve only one goal. I want to have that gold. I want to have that belt, and prove that I’m the best fighter out there.”
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