by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
In last week’s Names in the Game segment MMAWeekly featured Elaina Maxwell, a San Shou Champion who will be one half of Strikeforce MMA’s first ever female bout. So in keeping with that theme, this week NITG is featuring the other half of that historic duo as we feature Mauy Thai sensation Gina Carano.
For those unfamiliar with Carano, she’s highly successful Thai fighter out of the famed Master Toddy school in Las Vegas, Nevada, who recently parlayed her fortunes to MMA with two impressive victories earlier this year and now has her sites set on Strikeforce.
Shortly after filming a segment for MSNBC, Gina spoke to MMAWeekly about her upcoming fight, her media exposure and becoming the female equivalent of one of MMA’s most enterprising personalities.
MMAWeekly: First off Gina, tell us about how you first got into combat sports and later into MMA.
Gina Carano: I started off in Muay Thai about three and a half years ago when I walked into Master Toddy’s to watch my ex-boyfriend train and Master Chen, who used to be with Master Toddy, walked up to me and said, “Oh baby you’re too fat, you need to work out.” [Laughs] At the time it was true, I was 175lbs and I was like, “A little Thai guy told me I was fat, so I need to get my ass in gear.” [Laughs] I signed up with them and from there it’s all history.
I’ve had about 14 Muay Thai fights with one loss and one draw. I made the transition into MMA because I got the offer to fight in the first ever female sanctioned MMA bout in Nevada. So me and Leiticia Pestova made history in Nevada [at WEF 19] about six months ago.
MMAWeekly: You’re currently 2-0 in MMA, finishing both fighters, tell us about those fights.
Gina Carano: The [WEF] fight wasn’t a very good fight because the match-up was bad. Leiticia, bless her heart, shouldn’t have been in there with me. She’s a lot lighter and less skilled and I’m not even sure why she took the fight to begin with. That fight lasted about 38 seconds – she shot in on me, I ended up on top and ground ‘n pounded her until it was stopped.
My second MMA fight I fought Rosi Sexton from the UK, who was undefeated, I think 6-0 and was the UK Champion in her weight over there. She’s about 130-135lbs, I normally fight at around 140-145lbs but have been making the weight cut down, so I was a little bit bigger than Rosi was and knocked her out with five seconds to go in the second round. I have so much respect for her because she probably hadn’t fought someone like me stand-up-wise, with the Muay Thai skills I have, before.
MMAWeekly: All right, now tell us about your upcoming fight this weekend.
Gina Carano: I’m going into my third MMA fight in Strikeforce in San Jose where I’m going to be fighting Elaina Maxwell. I’ve fought her before a couple years ago at the Mirage [in Las Vegas] on a K-1 card. I don’t know if I was really expected to win that fight, the expectations were more in her favor and I think she was expecting to win that fight also, so when I got in the ring with her and was getting her, it took her off her game a little bit and I got into her head and ended up winning it by unanimous decision.
Now it’s going to be a different story because she comes from a San Shou background and so she’s familiar with throws and I believe she’ll act upon it in the cage and go for ground ‘n pound and stuff, so I’m not taking her lightly at all. I have much respect for her, but I have more respect for the people I train with and myself and I feel like we’re going to do well December 8th.
MMAWeekly: How has the transition gone from Muay Thai to MMA and its aspects of grappling?
Gina Carano: I really find the whole Jiu-Jitsu part of my training fascinating. I really feel like a baby in that sport, which I am, but I’m real eager to learn, so I’m not really afraid to go to the ground. So the transition I’m making is to not freak out when I get on the ground when it happens – which in the cage is more than likely to.
I mostly work on my stand-up game, perfecting that, and a good shot defense, which I believe I have. I know the ground is a very unfamiliar game for me and I have much respect for it, but I’m learning and I’m not afraid to go there.
MMAWeekly: Elaina trains with Cung Le at his school and the guys at the American Kickboxing Academy, so we know the caliber of people she’s working with. Tell us about the people you’re training with for this fight.
Gina Carano: Working with Master Toddy, who I believe is the best stand-up Muay Thai-wise in America, so I’m quite confident with my kicks, knees, elbows, stance, and distance. I’ve also been working with a boxing coach, Chris Ben, he’s one of the head coaches at UNLV and he’s crispened my punches, which I believe are a strong-point for me. Then Scott Barry over at Cobra Kai, he’s trained under Marc Laimon, he is unbelievable.
More than anything I train with people who know how to inspire me, encourage me and strengthen my mental state, which I believe is a big part of the game. Learning technique and everything is great, but if you don’t have the mental state, you don’t have anything. I have much respect for them and it shows a lot in my training and fighting.
MMAWeekly: What are you expecting from Elaina in the fight this weekend?
Gina Carano: I think she’ll try to trick me into thinking she’s going to stand and trade with me, but I really feel in my heart that she feels a couple of my punches she’ll remember back to when we fought the first time and she won’t want to trade anymore and try me out on the ground.
I know she’s not afraid to trade, we’ve traded before, but I think she’ll try to take me down. It’s going to be a different fight, but I feel pretty good about my stand-up and ground, so I feel pretty good about the fight.
MMAWeekly: She said she’s expecting a knockout in this fight, do you feel the same way?
Gina Carano: Yeah, for sure, I definitely think the fight will end shortly and won’t go the distance.
MMAWeekly: So we can definitely look forward to a fight that could best the guys when it comes to excitement huh?
Gina Carano: Oh yeah, I did last time I fought and I hope to do it this time. [Laughs] I know it’s her hometown and everything, so I just hope to gain their respect and show them that I’m a genuine fighter from the heart and that I’m going to be around for a long while.
MMAWeekly: Okay let’s talk about some media exposure you’ve gotten. I know you were part of a movie and reality television series about female Muay Thai fighting. Tell us about that.
Gina Carano: About three years ago myself, LaTasha Marzolla and Lisa King went to LA and did “I’d Do Anything” on ESPN, where these guys had to put on headgear, gloves and pads and we got to kick the crap out of them because that was one of the things they had to go through for one of the episodes. I ended up knocking one of the guys down and they were really surprised that girls could do that to them and so the people that were doing the show got the idea that we might make for an interesting story.
So they came out and filmed us before a fight and it ended up becoming a movie called Ring Girls, it was an independent film about five girls that had a fight in Las Vegas and then travel to Thailand and have fights there. From there it was picked up by Oxygen and they decided to turn it into a reality show called “Fight Girls.”
So about six months ago did a similar thing where they brought in seven girls from all over America and it was like an elimination to see which three would get to go to Thailand to fight. Me and Christine Toledo, who also trains at my gym, were mentors because we’d been through the storyline of it before. So the show was about the three of them and their travels and fights.
Oxygen got such great ratings for it that we got picked up for another season which is going to start in late January/early February. That’s really exciting because it’s more time for us to pick the girls and step up the caliber of fighting and take it to the next level and really expose it to the world.
MMAWeekly: Before we spoke I know that MSNBC was out there filming you; as they were this past October with Urijah Faber for his latest title defense in King of the Cage, tell us about that.
Gina Carano: The MSNBC guys are doing four episodes on four promotions and Strikeforce is one of them, so they fallowed me around for two days and went over my training and met my heroes, the people I surround myself daily with like my grandfather and my mom.
I don’t know if it was exciting for them, but it was nice to show off the people that inspire me daily like Master Toddy, Scott Barry and Chris Ben, and my wonderful family. If anything I’m glad I got to show off these great people and I hope that comes across right on MSNBC.
MMAWeekly: Should all go well with this fight in Strikeforce, what do you see for yourself in the future?
Gina Carano: I’d like to develop myself as a fighter more and more, but that’s just one aspect of me. It’s a very strong aspect, but there’s a lot more I want to do in life. I want to finish school; I want to see myself reaching people and provide something for somebody like I had provided for me.
For example, down the road I want to be able to maybe help a female fighter or a promotion or something and really be a part of a sport I love and make it better. I have so many dreams and ambitions, I love music, clothes…so many things and build a business out of it. Fighting is very short-term in the life scheme of things.
MMAWeekly: Kind of sounds like you want to be the female version of MMA’s very enterprising legend, Bas Rutten.
Gina Carano: Yeah. [Laughs]
MMAWeekly: So we should let Bas know to keep an eye out for you because he’s got some competition huh?
Gina Carano: He does, I’ve got big plans. [Laughs]
MMAWeekly: Great stuff Gina, thank you so much for taking the time for this interview. Is there anything you’d like to say as we head out?
Gina Carano: I’d like to thank of course all my trainers…Master Toddy, Scott Barry, Mike Ben…all the people at Master Toddy’s gym, Cobra Kai and all the people that I’m surrounded with and inspire me to get up and work my ass off because they were and I didn’t want to be left behind and I wanted to stick with them.
I want to thank Mark Ross and Kevin Beecher, they’re the two very important people to me, they’re inspirational and they definitely show true heart and show what it takes to be a true Thai fighter. I want to thank Tom Weber, he produced Ring Girls and “Fight Girls,” he’s been great as a friend and business partner.
I want to thank Strikeforce for picking up this bout and noticing we have talent and that we’re coming no matter what, no matter how many doors you slam in our faces. And to the people out there I say come show damnit! [Laughs] Why wouldn’t you? It’s going to be awesome.