Tale of two fighters: Contrasting personalities mark female duo

They’re a diverse female duo in the world of combat sports, and a Las Vegas-based Muay Thai fight organization is counting on them to help build its brand and drive ticket sales and TV ratings.

One is a charismatic Californian with a Dutch background, an intense 5-foot-4-inch dervish who pummeled an Englishwoman who stood 8 inches taller in a July fight. The other is a 5-foot-8-inch Brazilian who is considered the best female fighter on Earth. The only similarity is they have cool nicknames.

Meet Muay Thai fighters Tiffany “Time Bomb” van Soest and Cris “Cyborg” Santos.

Lion Fight Promotions, which stages Muay Thai fight shows, has both on its roster and plans to drive fans to bouts by showcasing van Soest and Santos as big female attractions on fight cards.

Van Soest, 24, is the female face of Lion Fight, and the Torrance, Calif., native is the organization’s first female world champion. The Redondo Beach, Calif., resident is personable and articulate, and has a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology at California State University, San Marcos, where she played soccer for two years.

Lion Fight promotes van Soest in the same way Ultimate Fighting Championship, the Las Vegas-based mixed martial arts promotion and production company, markets female UFC star Ronda Rousey as a signature headliner.

Lion Fight President Scott Kent said van Soest’s personality makes her special.

“She’s very charismatic,” Kent said, “and has all the things you want to build a brand around.”

When not in training, van Soest exchanges her intense fighting persona for a mellower mien as she surfs, rides her beach cruiser or skateboards.

“You can’t be intense all the time,” van Soest said.

It also doesn’t hurt that she is attractive, especially among her biggest fan base, men age 18 to 34.

“It comes with the territory whether you’re an actor, singer or athlete. You put yourself on your stage to perform. If you’re pretty, people will recognize that and it makes you more marketable,” van Soest said. “If you can back it up with your skill, then you can use it to your advantage . … If you can fight like crazy, that trumps everything.”

Santos, 28, is a recent addition to Lion Fight.

Promoters added her to a nationally televised Muay Thai show scheduled for the Fremont Street Experience on Sept. 20.

Santos, a native Brazilian who was a talented team handball player before she became a fighter, also carries some headline-making baggage. Her license was suspended in early 2012 for a year after she tested positive for a steroid.

Kent acknowledged Santos’ performance-enhancing drug past, but believes “Cyborg” brings instant name recognition and exposure for the Lion Fight organization, which is putting on its 11th show on Fremont Street.

“She has a name in MMA,” Kent said. “She’s an established star.”

She is expected to grow Muay Thai’s fan base by bringing her traditional mixed martial arts fans to the sport. Muay Thai fighting involves punching and kicking and does not include the grappling and wrestling seen in MMA.

Andrew Simon, chief executive of AXS Fights, which broadcasts MMA and Muay Thai fight shows, said both women will help Lion Fight establish itself and draw a spotlight to Muay Thai.

“Lion Fight is building Tiffany up and creating their own star like UFC did with Ronda Rousey,” Simon said. “To bring a Cris Cyborg (Santos) in is bringing in the best female fighter on the planet. She will bring in MMA fans.”

While van Soest was surprised by Santos joining Lion Fight, she said it will draw more attention to Muay Thai: She’s no stranger to the spotlight and big stage and she has a big following.”

Contact reporter Alan Snel at asnel@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5273.

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