Carano making a name for herself
Appeal Sports Writer
The cynic in us can transform a fistful of platitudes into a pair of nunchucks and, like Bruce Lee working his way through an alley full of thugs in “Return of the Dragon,” we can batter the avant-garde into prosaic pulp.
There is nothing new under the sun. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt.
So why should (insert your adjective for “beautiful,” “gorgeous,” “lovely”) mixed martial arts (MMA) star Gina Carano be any different?
The 25-year-old Carano, a former Reno resident and University of Nevada student (she was a psychology major), will appear on the undercard of EliteXC’s “Uprising,” to be televised by Showtime (time delayed on the West Coast) Saturday at 10 p.m.
There are some – although not many – who would say that Carano, with her good looks and abundant talent, is merely following down the path once blazed by five-time world kick-boxing champion Kathy Long, who also appeared on Showtime in the late 1980s.
Long was a walking contradiction. At 5-5, with her blond hair and pearly-white smile, Long looked like a poster girl out of the ring; but once in the ring, she morphed into the Terminator with a wig, kicking the hell out of her opponents.
Welcome to the new generation.
Eminent boxing promoter Gary Shaw was the first man of power to recognize Carano’s potential, seizing the opportunity like a Venus Fly Trap.
Shaw, Elite Xtreme Combat (EliteXC) president Kelly Perdew (the winner of the reality show “The Apprentice 2”) and Showtime have cast themselves in the role of Pepsi to Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White’s Coke.
Whereas UFC bought out competitor Pride (based in Japan), EliteXC has purchased King of the Cage, England’s Cage Rage and several other MMA entities.
And who has Shaw cast as his Golden Girl?
That would be Carano. Modest, down-to-earth and unassuming out of the MMA cage, Carano is a tigress in it.
Shaw, who knew Gina’s father Glenn, a former backup quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys from 1977-83, Nevada Athletic Commission member and current Silver Legacy executive, had a 20-minute lunch with his new acquisition.
“She is beautiful – inside and out,” Shaw said of Carano. “I told her she was beautiful and I wanted to make her the face of MMA, its poster child. I’m a promoter. She leaned in close to me and put her finger on my nose. She said, ‘And don’t forget, I can fight.'”
Shaw was sold and so has been a new generation of fans.
It was 2003 and there was Gina Carano, in the gym and being the supportive girlfriend of Muay Thai fighter Kevin Ross as he trained.
Then she heard the words that changed her life.
“This trainer – Master Chan – walked up to me and said, ‘Whoa, baby, baby. You’re fat. You need to lose some weight,” Carano said on Sunday. “It’s one thing when you’re dad or your boyfriend gives you (crap) about your weight….”
Carano said she weighed 178 pounds, with her excess baggage coming from a bit too much partying and eating. But with Master Chan’s ever-so-subtle goading, she began Muay Thai training twice a week. Two lessons weekly led to three. Then it was daily.
“All of a sudden, it became my life,” Carano said.
Her progress became a blur. She appeared in the 2005 docufilm “Ring Girls,” about five American women who trained under Master Toddy and traveled to Thailand to meet its fighters in their national sport.
The movie inspired the Oxygen Network reality series “Fight Girls,” where Carano appeared as Mentor Gina, advising 10 young women whose ambition was to travel to and fight in Thailand.
Carano had a 12-1-1 Muay Thai record before turning to MMA, where she’s 4-0 and coming off a Feb. 10 decision victory over Julie Kedzie on Showtime’s inaugural EliteXC event in Mississippi.
Carano offered her own understated assessment on her significant accomplishments.
“People embellish things,” said Gina, who was born to Glenn Carano and Dana Joy Cason, who divorced when Gina was 7. “I’m not sure if I’m the first female or male to travel to Thailand and get a title, although they say it on television or wherever. I have gone over there and fought good Thai girls. There are so many titles out there. I don’t put so much emphasis on titles. I fought two Thai champions and won.”
Carano’s performance against Kedzie was everything the network could’ve asked for.
Shaw said Ken Hershman, senior vice president and general manager of sports and events programming for Showtime Network, was reluctant to take a chance with Carano, who was essentially a new product.
“I said, ‘Trust me,'” Shaw said. “He said, OK. If it doesn’t work, we’ll never do it again.’ I didn’t want to tell Gina the kind of pressure that was on her. She was carrying the weight of the sport of women’s MMA on her shoulders in Mississippi. We’ve put a lot of energy and money behind her. I’m going to try and guide her. If Gina is smart, she’ll allow me to mold her career and she’ll make the cover of Sports Illustrated.”
That would be big deal, since SI finally got around to publishing a cover story on MMA – actually UFC – in its May 28 issue this year.
Carano is already quite used to guys making passes at her. Lately, however, some important people in Hollywood, who also see star potential in her, have been courting her. It should be noted that Long retired from kick boxing to enter show business.
Carano said she appreciates what Shaw and Showtime are doing for her career, but she’s neither willing to get caught up in her own hype nor will she compromise her morals to make it in Tinsletown.
Said Carano: “I realize in the fight game how big you can build up a fighter, but if you get caught with a shot or fight a better person…A lot of people in the public build you up, then when you lose, you’re (brought down). I want to keep my head level and do the best I can do.
“My biggest ambition is to keep the people who will be around me the rest of my life happy. I’m not going to get taken advantage of by people who don’t give two (bits) about me. I know all that (success) can be stripped away from me in seconds.”
She admitted, though, Hollywood has its allure.
“I’m down for it (Hollywood),” Carano said. “I’ll try almost anything. People are calling about that stuff. I can see me doing it both ways. I can work in the movies or I can work with the disabled for a living. Those are two ways I can have an impact. I think strong females are needed for the public eye. But I’ll bring myself wherever I go. I’m not going to sleep with a producer to get a job.”
Perhaps it’s a paternal thing or even a girlie-girl thing, but Carano said she’s too often heard people talking about how her looks could get ruined in the cage. In fact, her opponent Saturday – Tonya Evinger – said in a press release how she hopes to do just that.
“Yeah, people say, ‘You’re beautiful. You don’t want to get that pretty face messed up,'” Carano said with a laugh. “I’m actually good at fighting. I’ve been fighting four years now. Don’t they think I’ve thought about that possibility? Oh no, not my face! It’s kind of funny to me. It’s supposed to get in my head? I might get a broken nose or a scar? I’ve had a broken nose.”
Carano prefers to use her schooling in psychology as a form of mental judo.
“This person making comments (Evinger) is making comments I’d never make,” Carano said. “I feel like I’m one up on her already. She’s doing it for attention. I don’t need any more attention. She’s showing her insecurity and I’m just chilling, waiting for the fight.”
Carano is known as a striker, but has been training in juijitsu at the gym of UFC heavyweight champion Randy Couture. She said her ground game is coming along and her confidence has grown after making 200-pound men tap out in training.
“It’s fighter against fighter,” she said. “It’s all about how that person fights. I’m developing into a well-rounded mixed martial artist. I want to bring all of my skills together on fight night. I’m going to play off my opponent and what she’s going to bring.”
Oh, and that little weight issue? Nobody’s coming up to Carano and telling her she needs to lose weight anymore.
“I still love food,” she said, “I walk around at 150, 155 and get down to 140 or whatever. I don’t plan on moving up.”
For now, she’ll just take life and her opportunities as they come.
“I’m not in control of any of that,” she said. “I’ll try my best, enjoy my life and live my dream. If you put too much pressure on anything, it will break. I’ll let people put me where they want to. I started fighting in front of 200 people and loved it. I’d have a drink with my opponent afterward. People who know me know I (fight) because I love it.”
Well, to use another shopworn cliché, time marches on; and with it, some perspective: Long was before her time. Carano is made to order for hers.
Note:: Following Showtime’s broadcast, visit http://www.proelite.com to watch the undercard on streaming video.