by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
(Strikeforce fighter Miesha Tate with Shannon Knapp)

Last year was a banner year for women’s MMA. The first-ever main event between women on a major promotion’s card was held, and public awareness rose to an all-time high.

As 2010 begins, women’s MMA continues to develop thanks in no small part to Strikeforce.

Earlier this year the promotion hosted the first title defense of middleweight (145-pound) champion Cris “Cyborg” Santos. Friday night, Strikeforce will hold a fight between Sarah Kaufman and Takayo Hashi to determine its first women’s welterweight (135-pound) champion.

“I think Cris ‘Cyborg’ is a tremendous athlete,” said fighter liaison and member of the Strikeforce matchmaking team Shannon Knapp. “She fights with an aggressive nature and also has the athleticism and the talent.”

According to Knapp, she feels Santos is one of the sport’s elite fighters, regardless of gender or weight, and her sentiment echoes Strikeforce’s view of her.

“Any time you have a champion, they represent you, and Cris represents us very well,” Knapp told MMAWeekly.com. “She optimizes what a strong, athletic female athlete in this sport is.

“How could you go wrong? She keeps winning, she’s amazing when she’s in there, and I think everyone is very happy that she’s the one who holds the title.”

Knapp went on to discuss the importance of adding a champion in the 135-pound weight class at Friday’s Strikeforce Challengers Series event in San Jose, Calif.

“It’s huge,” exclaimed Knapp. “Especially when you have a female like Sarah Kaufman that’s out there just going through the 135-pound division, you come to a point when you have to say you have to solidify this weight class with a champion.

“I think it’s a great match-up, it will be a competitive fight, and we’re all excited about it.”

When asked what the coming year could possibly hold for the Strikeforce women’s divisions, Knapp feels it could see another series of firsts for the promotion.

“We’re looking for the top female talent and are trying to put on good fights,” she commented. “I wouldn’t be surprised if in the future you saw a fully loaded all-female fight card.

“There’s a lot of talk of, and we haven’t set a date yet, doing different tournaments in the female divisions.”

As women’s MMA continues to move forward, Knapp feels a synergy between herself and Strikeforce when it comes to their continued support and desires for the evolution of it.

“As long as the girls are coming in to fight, I’m all about it,” stated Knapp. “I think that they have a spot in our sport, but there is still a long road to travel to get the type of acceptance females in other sports I feel are just now receiving.

“I think they’ve come a long way from where we were a few years ago. As awareness grows hopefully a lot more girls will be interested, they’ll apply themselves, and it will become deeper and more competitive.”

Ultimately where the women’s divisions go is up to the fans, according to Knapp. It is because of their support that both Strikeforce and their entire roster can continue to do what they do.

“I definitely want to thank everybody for the support they’ve given Strikeforce,” said Knapp in closing. “Without them we don’t have a product.

“We’ve got some great fights coming up this year and I don’t think the fans are going to be disappointed. I think the fans will really appreciate what we’ll put out there.”