On MMA: The booking of Gina Carano

Submitted by Steve Te Tai

Fighting is all about risk.  What happens if I win, what happens if I lose?  Ultimately that question is what prevented Mayweather-Pacquiao from happening during its interest peak.  There are egos and careers at stake when a certain level of star athlete enters into an athletic contest.  From NFL players deciding whether to give it one more year, or NBA players trying to decide which team to join as a free agent, it all boils down to the same question asked in private among management teams, close family members, and to the athletes themselves … What happens if I win, what happens if I lose? 

Which brings us to Gina Carano.  The MMA and sports world has been buzzing since Joe Rogan teased the “huge” announcement for women’s fighting, which could only have meant the signing of Cyborg-Rousey, or the MMA return of Gina Carano.  While no real announcement has come from the UFC since then, Gina Carano has addressed the idea of a MMA return and said she would be open to returning under the right circumstances, which is way more than she’s ever said since leaving MMA for Hollywood back in 2009.

Not only is Gina’s fighter profile higher than ever as a pioneer for an exploding women’s MMA scene, but she’s also now a bona fide movie star with millions of people who barely know about her history as a fighter.  Her drawing power has never been higher than now.

So while we don’t know where she actually stands in the progress of signing a UFC deal, by making that sort of statement in public, the negotiations are essentially on, and while money will always be a factor, it comes down to what would happen if she wins or if she loses, and therefore the opponent.

There are basically three options for her:  Ronda Rousey, Cris Cyborg, or one of many lesser known names as a “stepping stone” to Rousey/Cyborg.

As for personal issues, there is nothing pushing in any direction.  There’s no Twitter feud between Carano and anyone’s boyfriend, no Diaz-GSP type heat with her and anybody, it’s actually quite the opposite.  Ronda Rousey sounds quite enamored with Carano and has a tremendous amount of respect for her.  Other than her recent “spirited” comment about “retiring Carano” (which may actually have been more of a scripted line from her management), there’s no hostility between Carano and Ms. Justino either.  And she also beat everyone she faced other than Cyborg, so there are no losses from her past to haunt her. 

Some do feel that Gina Carano needs to “earn” a title shot, or some “tune up” fights are required before a big name opponent is lined up.  So let’s say Gina fights Ronda’s Four Horsewoman stablemate Jessmyn Duke.  So what happens if she wins, and what happens if she loses?

Taking into account ring rust, I can’t imagine she would dominate and destroy a Top 10 female fighter.  The odds of looking super-impressive against a modern and active female fighter aren’t high.  So is merely winning enough if she looks lackluster or winded?  Since they already would’ve established the “ladder climbing” gimmick, it would be seen as a farce if they give her a title shot anyway, and if they give her another opponent you have the risk of losing to someone not named Rousey or Cyborg once again, and with the curiosity factor for her first fight gone, the show would not draw against a lesser name.  Not a very promising outlook for business.

And then there’s the other side of that coin, what happens if she loses?  First of all, that would officially put Carano-Rousey and Carano-Cyborg II up there with Cro Cop-Couture as the biggest money fights that almost happened, and would send Carano back to Hollywood as someone who “used to be tough” or worse yet, seen as the beneficiary of a thin women’s MMA scene in the 2000s.  And Duke would get no rub from beating Gina, as this win would only be seen as proof that Gina is not someone who should be fighting in the UFC in 2014, and that’s it.

So if that’s out, let’s move on to Carano-Cyborg II.  However, we did already see this, and the chances of her beating Cyborg are probably lowest of all (even if Cyborg did just lose a Muay Thai fight).  Of course if she won this, it’d be gigantic and would set up Carano-Rousey perfectly, but beating Cyborg at this point would be a pretty tall order.  And if the expected happened, and Cyborg pounded Gina Carano, you not only risk seeing the Hollywood actress with her face a bloody pulp, but you also end Carano’s MMA return.  One and done.

And you’ll notice most of these scenarios end with one and done.  And in all reality with a very legitimate acting career already in place, her return to MMA will be more of a career enhancement gimmick, than an abandonment of Hollywood, so I wouldn’t expect more than one fight from Gina Carano.  So if the greatest likelihood is one Gina Carano fight, there is only one fight she should do, and that’s against Ronda Rousey.

Ronda Rousey is already eating cheeseburgers to make a Carano fight easier to happen, so she’s doing her part at least.  As for justifying it, she is the former women’s world champion and was the undisputed “queen” in her day.  But the biggest reason why Carano needs to fight Rousey is Royce Gracie.

In 2006, the UFC was rising fast when Dana White announced the unlikely dream match of Matt Hughes vs. Royce Gracie.  It was the unstoppable champion facing off with the master of an era long past.  It was an inexplicable dream match of two entirely different entities, who both ruled their kingdoms with an iron fist, albeit many years apart.  The fight was built on the idea that anything could happen with these two universes colliding, mixed with some great promo work from Royce Gracie.

Ronda Rousey is the biggest star in MMA right now, but Gina Carano might be its most charismatic.  At the time, Matt Hughes’ fight with Royce Gracie set the all-time UFC PPV record, and while breaking the UFC 100 record might seem impossible, a fight between two very attractive and credible female athletes, well promoted, with tons of mainstream coverage on all the major talk shows and networks, and with the internet likely on fire for this, all combined with the mystery factor surrounding Gina, this could do well.

Which brings us to the fight … What happens if she wins, what happens if she loses?  If she loses, she goes back to Hollywood having lost via armbar to the girl who beats everybody.  History has shown there is no shame in losing to the perceived best in any sport.  Her reputation as a tough fighter would remain intact, she will have officially passed the torch to the new face of women’s MMA, and will have participated in one of the most successful PPVs of all time, and likely one of the most famous fights to have ever taken place in history.  Everybody wins.

And what if Gina Carano actually beat Ronda Rousey?  If that happens, the world gets turned upside down, and the UFC takes business to another level.  You have the rematch with Rousey, the rematch with Cyborg (which would actually be a lot bigger than a regular Cyborg-Carano fight), title defense against Miesha Tate, Holly Holm, all sorts of matchups.  Carano as champ would be enormous. 

And is that really that unlikely for Gina to win?  This matchup would be uncharted territory for Rousey as Gina would be the first opponent she actually idolized and admires to such an extent.  We’ve seen fighters be vulnerable against their idols in the past, and perhaps Ronda would be unable to unleash the pitbull mentality against someone she adores so much like Carano?  There is a chance that Carano could beat Rousey.  After all, Royce Gracie choked out everybody in his day no matter how big or strong, and had the spirit and legacy of a generation behind him.  He did have a legitimate chance of beating Matt Hughes right?

Steve Te Tai https://twitter.com/SteveTeTai

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