In a dynamic career that includes acting, MMA, and fitness modeling, Gina Carano has left her mark on the entertainment landscape. From breaking barriers in the mid-2000s as an MMA fighter to captivating audiences on the screen, Carano's journey is one of resilience and versatility. As fans eagerly anticipate her future endeavors, we delve into what you might not know about Carano's career beginnings, including just how she landed her spot on the hit Disney+ series "The Mandalorian."
Famous Long Before Before "The Mandalorian"
Gina Carano, now known as Carasynthia "Cara" Dune from The Mandalorian, is far more than just her on-screen persona. A former competitive fighter, she revolutionized women's Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and combat sports. Starting in her late teens, Carano competed in MMA Strikeforce and Elite Xtreme Combat, showcasing her athleticism and ambition. Unbelievably, her mid-2000s career holds even more noteworthy achievements.
Born on April 16, 1982, in Dallas, Texas, Gina Carano inherited athleticism from her parents, Dana Joy and former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Glenn Carano. Despite her athletic genes, she didn't begin fighting until the age of 19. Before that, she explored various sports, discovering her passion for basketball during high school after trying activities ranging from volleyball to softball.
A Much-Needed Outlet
Carano faced challenges in her childhood, marked by her parents' separation. With one older and one younger sister, the family relocated to Las Vegas. The living conditions were not always safe, and adjusting to a new state posed additional challenges for the children. Despite these difficulties, sports provided Carano with a positive outlet. Her talent and competitive spirit contributed to her high school basketball team's success, leading them to the state championship title.
She's a People Person
In addition to her athletic pursuits, Carano possesses a unique talent for understanding emotions and people at a deep level. After graduating high school, she pursued her interest in psychology, majoring in the study of mind and behavior at university. Despite completing her degree in four years, Carano yearned for something more, seeking a passion outside of her existing talents.
She Discovered Muay Thai
A significant turning point occurred for Gina Carano at the age of 19 when she discovered Muay Thai, a striking combat sport also known as Thai Boxing. Her boyfriend's decision to enroll in classes for a healthier lifestyle inspired Carano to do the same. While initially thinking that college would guide her path, it was her introduction to Muay Thai that truly transformed her future.
Muay Thai Changed Everything
“Doing Muay Thai changed everything for me,” Carano shared in a 2019 interview on Ariel Helwani's MMA Show.
It lifted her from a challenging situation in Las Vegas—a small apartment building where everyone was struggling. The environment was so strained that people had removed smoke detectors, suspecting FBI and family involvement. It was a complex and bad situation.
When Carano fell in love with Muay Thai, she already had future plans. She was going to school and doing well in her study of psychology. The problem was that it just wasn’t doing anything for her. She lacked the fire for psychology that she found she had for martial arts.
Carano’s First True Love
Her resilience during tough times was attributed to her initial love, and no, it wasn't her boyfriend. "Muay Thai was my first love. And fighting saved my life in a huge way," she revealed. Her affection for the sport evolved into a fervent obsession, leading her to dedicate all her time and focus to training. Eventually, she expanded her skills to include Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).
Before delving into Carano's remarkable achievements as a competitive fighter, let's clarify what Muay Thai and MMA entail. Although both gained popularity simultaneously in the Western world, they represent distinct fighting styles. "Muay Thai," translating to "Thai Boxing," is often referred to as "The Art of Eight Limbs" due to its utilization of eight limbs—fists, elbows, knees, and shins. On the other hand, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) combines various fighting styles unified into one discipline, also known as "Cage Fighting," with the first female competition occurring in the mid-'90s.
Setting A Historic Record
Four months after her Muay Thai class, Carano moved from gym training to active competition. Her debut fight took place at the training gym, and from there, she ascended the national ranks, leaving a lasting impression. Carano showcased her fierceness, competitiveness, and determination to succeed. In Muay Thai, her record boasted an impressive 12 wins with only 1 loss.
In the MMA arena, she was known as Gina "Conviction" Carano, making waves and achieving the title of the "first-ever female" in various fights across the realm.
Her debut MMA match on June 10, 2006, against Leiticia Pestova lasted just 38 seconds, a remarkable victory. In a mere six months, on December 8th, she secured another historic win by participating in and winning the inaugural female fight in Strikeforce against Elaina Maxwell.
Oxygen’s "Fight Girls"
Carano's influence reached new heights in 2007 when she became a mentor on Oxygen's Fight Girls. The reality show featured 10 female fighters living together for six weeks, training with a professional Muay Thai trainer and athletes. The ultimate objective was to compete and win a Muay Thai championship in Thailand.
She Inspired Others
In 2007, Carano went beyond mentoring and served as an inspiration in a foundational way. Her notable MMA "Fight of the Night" against Julie Kedzie left a lasting impact, marking the first televised female fight on Showtime. Ronda "Rowdy" Rousey, the iconic fighter, credited this match as the reason for her return to MMA, highlighting Carano's influential role in the sport.
The Face of the Sport
In 1997, the first documented female MMA fight took place, and a decade later, Gina Carano became one of the pioneering women who transformed the landscape for girls in the sport. Transitioning from Muay Thai to MMA in the mid-2000s, Carano achieved success in nearly every national fight, securing 3 knockouts out of 7 wins. Her ferocity and tenacity captured global admiration, earning her the title of "The Face of Women's MMA."
Hindsight is 20/20
Despite being dubbed "The Face of Women's MMA," Carano has been known to reject the title, as she never perceived herself as someone significant in female sports history. However, after stepping back from the ring and with the passage of a few years, she has come to recognize the impact she made on the world of combat sports.
Her Biggest Strikeforce Match
On August 15, 2009, the highly anticipated Strikeforce match between Gina Carano and Cris Cyborg took place, marking the first headlined female MMA Women's Champion competition. Carano entered the bout undefeated with seven wins, but 4 minutes and 59 seconds into round one, Cyborg secured victory with a TKO. This defeat not only marked Carano's first in her MMA career but also concluded her contract with Strikeforce, making it her final fight under the promotion.
In a recent appearance on Ariel Helwani's MMA Show, Carano shared, "I would always see these big fights never happen, and I just knew that wasn't gonna happen with me. I was gonna fight Cyborg, whether I was ready or not. And so, I did."
Despite acknowledging she wasn't fully prepared for the bout, Carano recognized that turning down the opportunity meant potentially missing out on such a significant fight. Her commitment to not letting her fans down played a pivotal role in her decision.
It Would Be Different Now
Reflecting on the past, Carano, now more self-aware, provided further insight into her experience. She believed that had she managed to overcome her adrenaline rush and reach the second round, things would have "calmed down," potentially leading to a more successful outcome in the fight.
A Long Drive
Recalling the aftermath of the Cyborg Fight, Carano expressed a sense of devastation. In a reflective moment, she likened her experience to the famous phrase from the song, "I get knocked down, but I get back up again." Following the fight, she embarked on a soul-searching journey, driving down the Pacific Coast Highway to San Diego, contemplating the direction of her life and the unexpected turn of events.
If It Falls Out of the Sky
During Carano's fighting career, many speculated about her transition to Hollywood, assuming it would be an easy move given her celebrity status. However, Carano revealed that breaking into Hollywood was "almost nearly impossible." Becoming an actress wasn't a consideration for her, and she believed it would only happen if the right person discovered her. Surprisingly, by the end of the summer of 2009, it appeared that the right opportunity had indeed found Carano.
A Life Changing Lunch
Just days after her significant fight, Gina Carano received a call from a potential agent. The agent informed her that director Steven Soderbergh wanted to meet with her, initially causing some confusion for Carano. Despite her uncertainty, she decided to go with the flow. After agreeing, Soderbergh took a train, and they had a positive and productive four-hour lunch. Carano recounted Soderbergh saying, "'Look, I don't have a script yet and I don't have anything. But I think you're interesting, and I think I'd like to make a real-life action movie off of you,'" during an interview on Ariel Helwani's MMA Show.
Going Out on Top
After dedicating almost a decade to her competitive career and her passion for fighting, how did someone like Carano, a legend in the field, find herself walking away from something she cherished so deeply?
"At the time, there was nowhere else to go. I had reached the top. And so here was a whole new challenge in front of me in this movie business."
The Role Made for Gina
Undoubtedly, Gina Carano is an astonishing and ambitious woman. Just imagine her excitement when a Hollywood director not only approached her for a movie role but based the main character solely on her. The aspiring actress joined the cast of the action-drama-thriller "Haywire" to portray the intense black ops super soldier, Mallory Kane. The film was released in 2011, and Carano discovered a new craving she yearned for in the world of cinema.
A Fast & Furious Invitation
As Gina pointed out, breaking into Hollywood is an almost impossible feat, even with a custom-made role. However, her next opportunity was equally significant. The vibrant and spirited fighter appeared as Riley in the 2013 action-adventure film, Fast & Furious 6. It appeared that she was beginning to navigate the best of both worlds—embracing her new acting challenge while merging it with her love and talent for fighting. Yet, another dramatic turn of events awaited Carano just around the corner.
One More Match
Dana White, the President of the UFC, had previously declared that he wouldn't employ a female fighter. However, female athletes like Gina Carano played a pivotal role in paving the way for a significant change in the industry. In 2014, still serving as the UFC president, Dana White extended an offer to Gina Carano to return and fight Ronda "Rowdy" Rousey in the much-anticipated $1 Million Fight.
On Carano’s Terms
For Rousey, Carano was an idol and a source of inspiration, playing a crucial role in motivating her to fight and contribute to the significant changes happening in female combat sports. Carano, equally excited about her $1 million fight with Rousey, set forth specific terms for acceptance. On Ariel Helwani's MMA Show, she revealed her request to Dana White: "I'm gonna need [Dana White] to do me a favor then because I've been acting, I'm not active in any gym... You're going to have to give me some time to build a team or join a team."
To Stage a Comeback
Despite her enthusiasm to compete and return to the ring for a significant match, Carano was aware that proper preparation required a minimum of 6 months of training and the support of a loyal team. While she expressed these conditions during an initial lunch meeting with the UFC, Carano felt that the actions did not align with the words, suggesting a discrepancy between verbal assurances and subsequent actions.
UFC Let Down
Regrettably, Carano's terms for the match were consistently unmet. Despite the agreed-upon condition of allowing her at least 6 months for training and team-building, Dana White publicly announced her signing just one day after their lunch. Carano also asserted that she experienced poor treatment and unprofessional communication from White in the subsequent weeks. Faced with this situation, Carano had to decide whether to forego the $1 million fight or find a way to navigate what she perceived as unacceptable conduct and behavior.
An Offer She Could Refuse
Carano understood that no sum of money, not even a million dollars, could compensate for the loss of her respect, trust, or dignity. However, this didn't diminish her desire to be a part of UFC history. Carano recognizes that, even if she couldn't fulfill all her athletic dreams, she's immensely grateful for how everything unfolded and the significant impact she's had on changing the industry.
A Lesson Learned
Gina Carano has achieved considerable success in her life, yet she acknowledges that not all dreams may come to fruition. Embracing life's inherent unpredictability, Carano shared sincerely with Ariel Helwani, "For those people out there who might be experiencing an end-of-the-world thing, it's not the end of the world until your heart stops beating. So, stick in there."
Opening the Door for Women
Although she didn't become the first woman in the UFC, Gina Carano played a vital role in numerous breakthroughs during the era when female fighters were gaining acceptance in the industry. She reflected on the challenges women faced when entering gyms. Carano emphasized the difficulties, pointing out how other athletes made female athletes feel unwelcome, exhibiting behaviors ranging from name-calling to outright rudeness in training gyms.
Shattering the Glass Ceiling
Imagine being a female in a fighting gym just 20 years ago. While it may seem like a minor aspect, it served as a crucial building block that laid the foundation for the rest of the revolution. Gina Carano has expressed her enduring appreciation for this milestone, recognizing its significance in paving the way for positive change in the industry.
Acting is as Hard as Fighting
From the time Carano turned down the $1 Million Fight offer in 2014 until her role in The Mandalorian on Disney+, she participated in various movies, including Deadpool, Extraction, Scorched Earth, and Madness in the Method. Despite enjoying her increased involvement in the film world, she noted that it posed challenges comparable to those of fighting itself.
Challenges in Acting
During Carano's inaugural film, she was grappling with something extremely difficult and somewhat traumatic in her personal life. Additionally, there were creative differences and agreement issues during the reshoots for Haywire, leading the producers to decide to dub her voice.
While Carano was genuinely grateful for the opportunity, she expressed the hardship it brought: "I think it was something that gave me a hard time from the get-go in this business is my entire voice was robbed of me. And you're gonna take an already kind of uncomfortable, awkward, shy person who's just trying to do their best in life… and not let them finish a project that they gave blood, sweat, and tears to, and it was hard."
A Cast Like Family
When Jon Favreau approached Gina and asked if she wanted to be part of The Mandalorian series, his compassion deeply moved her. Even if Favreau wasn't aware of all the details from a decade ago during the filming of Haywire, the fact that he had her back and genuinely believed in her as both an actress and an individual touched Gina Carano profoundly. She expressed her love for her role as Cara Dune and her immense joy at being part of the Star Wars family and universe.
After the first season of The Mandalorian, the hashtag #FireGinaCarano gained traction on social media, ultimately leading to her termination by Disney. The controversy stemmed from Carano sharing several insensitive posts on her Instagram stories. These posts included comparisons between America during COVID and Nazi Germany, as well as mocking people's preferred pronouns. Carano, in response, spoke out against what she referred to as "cancel culture," asserting that she was let go due to the online audience's reaction.
She Believes in Fate
Currently, Carano finds great satisfaction in her acting career and has taken a break from the ring. However, she still contemplates competing, regularly training with a heavy bag. Her involvement in action films keeps her on her toes, satisfying the small bit of hunger for fighting that she will always crave. Through all her life experiences, she has learned, no matter how cheesy it may sound, to always remember that "You call out to things in your heart and they happen."
Gina Carano started her fighting career around the turn of the new millennium, shattering barriers and breaking glass ceilings throughout the mid-2000s. In 2008, Gina Carano ranked among the top 3 most searched individuals on Yahoo!'s search engine. Moreover, "Gina Carano" was the fastest-rising term searched on the Google search engine. It was undoubtedly a significant achievement!
She’s Worth $4 Million
With a net worth of $4 million, Gina Carano has found success as an actress, TV personality, MMA fighter, and fitness model. She continues to captivate audiences with her multifaceted talents and charismatic presence. As she navigates the entertainment industry, fans can look forward to witnessing her continued success and perhaps even more exciting projects.
She Isn’t Married… Yet
Her long-time relationship with Kevin Ross adds to her journey, and who knows, there might be wonderful milestones, including the possibility of marriage, in the cards for this dynamic duo. The path ahead appears bright, and fans eagerly anticipate the next chapters in Gina Carano's inspiring journey.