Gina Carano applauds Bellator Kickboxing, advocates for even more exposure

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Filed under: Bellator, News, Videos

Bellator Kickboxing 7 airs tonight on Spike at 11 p.m. ET, but – spoiler alert! – the event already took place Sept. 23, as part of a doubleheader with Bellator 183.

In the main event, Kevin Ross and Domenico Lomurno squared off for the inaugural featherweight title in front of thousands of fans at SAP Center in San Jose, Calif. Which is great and all, but former MMA star Gina Carano wishes it wasn’t being televised on a two-week tape delay.

“This is so awesome for Bellator to put on kickboxing for such a huge stage,” Carano told MMAjunkie on the night of the event. “But I personally think it should’ve been live. This sh*t should’ve been live.”

Carano was on hand to support her fiancée, Ross, as well as MMA fighter Gaston Bolanos, who she trains with. Carano’s hope is that more MMA fans will give  kickboxing – and other combat sports that are part of MMA – more of a chance.

“You know what I think? Basically, f*ck chances. F*ck it,” Carano said. “You do something, because you’re passionate about it, because it changed your life, because it made you a better person. And there’s a bunch of jiu-jitsu people and their group of people that make them a better person. We should shine the light on them, and we should also shine the light on these kickboxers and muay Thai people. I get that MMA puts it all together, and it’s its own animal. But there’s this underground thing.”

Carano at one point was the most recognizable women’s MMA star during the late 2000s, putting the now-defunct EliteXC on the map before losing to current UFC women’s featherweight champion Cris Cyborg in a 2009 Strikeforce title fight.

Carano alluded to her in-cage stardom being limited because of a general lack of major exposure for women’s MMA and would like kickboxing stars to not experience the same thing. She’d like them to have the opportunity to show what they’re all about.

“Thank you, Bellator and (president) Scott Coker, for always staying loyal to putting these cards out,” Carano said. “That means the world. But you’re not going to find these people like Kevin Ross and Joe Schilling. You already missed a lot of legends that came before them. You should expose the legends that we have now.”

To hear more from Carano, watch the video above.

And for more on the upcoming Bellator schedule, visit the MMA Rumors section of the site.

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Filed under: Bellator, News, Videos
Source: MMA Junkie

The MMA Road Show with John Morgan No. 131 – Las Vegas: UFC, Bellator recap, featuring Carano, Werdum, Ferguson

Episode No. 131 of “The MMA Road Show with John Morgan” podcast is now available for streaming and download.

MMAjunkie lead staff reporter John Morgan hosts the show while traveling the world to cover the sport.

John Morgan and Cold Coffee are back together in Las Vegas and recapping their weeks at UFC Fight Night 117, Bellator 183 and Bellator Kickboxing 7. As they recap their weekends on opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean, Morgan also shares his interview with Gina Carano, not to mention the wild scene that unfolded in Los Angeles with Fabricio Werdum and Tony Ferguson, as well as the latest headlines in MMA.

Listen below, or check it out on iTunes or at themmaroadshow.com. You can also subscribe via RSS.

Filed under: Bellator, News, UFC
Source: MMA Junkie

Fans invited to this week's Bellator 183 weigh-ins, Fan Fest (and chance for a sick dinner prize)

Bellator’s return to its home base in San Jose, Calif., goes down this week, and fans can get up close and personal with some MMA superstars.

Fans are invited to the weigh-ins for Bellator 183, as well as a Fan Fest and meet-and-greet opportunities. In addition, one lucky fan can win a chance to have dinner with three MMA standouts, four VIP tickets to the event and a Bellator prize pack.

Bellator 183 takes place Saturday at SAP Center in San Jose. The main card airs on Spike following prelims on MMAjunkie.

The weigh-ins take place at SAP Center. Doors open to fans at 4 p.m. PT local time. At 4:30 p.m., weigh-ins for the Bellator Kickboxing 7 event take place, followed by the ceremonial weigh-ins for Bellator 183 at 5 p.m.

After that, a Fan Fest will take place Dave & Buster’s at 940 Great Mall Dr.
in Milpitas, Calif. On hand will be women’s featherweight champion Julia Budd, Dan Henderson, Mike Goldberg and John McCarthy from 8-11 p.m. ET. The event is free with an RSVP by Bellator Nation members, who can sign up at bellator.com/fanfest.

On Saturday, before the fights, there will be a meet-and-greet opportunity with legendary heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko in the concourse at SAP Center from 3:30-5:30 p.m. In addition, the first 5,000 fans into the fights will receive a limited edition Fedor bobblehead.

There’s another opportunity for one lucky winner, as well. Fans can register to win a dinner with Emelianenko, former lightweight champ Michael Chandler and women’s MMA pioneer Gina Carano. The winner will get dinner, four VIP tickets to Bellator 183, and a Bellator prize pack. Fans can enter to win at Bellator183dinner.com.

In the Bellator 183 main event, former UFC and WEC lightweight champ Benson Henderson takes on Patricky Freire. In the co-feature, “TUF 10” winner and UFC veteran Roy Nelson makes his Bellator debut against Javy Alyala. Plus, Paul Daley takes on UFC veteran Lorenz Larkin in a welterweight featured bout.

For more on Bellator 183, visit the MMA Rumors section of the site.

Filed under: Bellator, News
Source: MMA Junkie

Today in MMA History: When 'Cyborg' met Carano, and women's MMA reached a new pinnacle

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When she stepped into the cage for the biggest fight in the history of women’s MMA, Gina Carano couldn’t feel the canvas under her feet. A strange sensation. Not unpleasant, in other circumstances, but this was not the time.

Nearly 14,000 people were in HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif., and more than half a million more watching on Showtime – all of them held rapt by the promise of seeing MMA’s poster girl with the toothpaste-commercial smile go up against a true force of nature, both unstoppable force and immovable object, the woman who needed only one name: “Cyborg.”

A bad time for Carano to feel suddenly and irrevocably disconnected from her body, and yet there she was, seemingly floating a few inches off the canvas.

“I felt high on a drug I’d never had before,” Carano told MMAjunkie this week. “I might’ve enjoyed that feeling had I not been in front of thousands of people, getting ready to fight, and had ‘Cyborg’ staring across the cage at me.”

Cris “Cyborg” Santos (now known as Cristiane Justino, following a divorce from her husband, Evangelista Santos), watched her from the opposite corner, thinking about all the people who would much rather see Carano win. That list included most of the fans in the arena, and probably most of the people at Strikeforce and Showtime, too.

“It wasn’t what they expected, because they wanted Gina to win,” Justino said. “I was the underdog. But it was my shot. I thought, ‘I have to. I trained too hard for this. This will be my day.’”

It was the evening of Aug. 15, 2009. For the first time in a long time, the eyes of the MMA community were trained not on the UFC, but on Strikeforce, the little fight promotion out of San Jose that had recently made the most aggressive move in its short history when it purchased select assets of a defunct competitor by the name of EliteXC.

Fighter contracts were among those assets, and it didn’t take long for fans and media to start doing some fantasy matchmaking with the new pieces in play. A few days after the sale, and already one question was swirling: What about “Cyborg,” the South American terror, going up against Carano, the unblemished face of women’s MMA?

Carano was already the most famous female fighter in the world, thanks to her time in EliteXC, where promoter Gary Shaw did his best to ensure that fans saw as much of her as possible, and from every conceivable angle. She quickly became the darling of the MMA blogs, then reached out into the mainstream with a role as “Crush” on the rebooted “American Gladiators.” She was a staple at big EliteXC events, giving her shy, girl-next-door smile and looking embarrassed of the attention while also drawing it to her with an unspoken magnetism.

Gina Carano

During her time with the promotion she won four fights in 20 months, competing on both the first EliteXC event and the last. But as much as Shaw and company loved to show her off in a sports bra, or even naked behind a towel on weigh-in day, one thing they never gave her was a spot in the main event.

Female fighters were good enough to be a sideshow, it seemed, but they couldn’t be the primary attraction. Over in Strikeforce, however, Scott Coker had other ideas.

Carano’s 2006 bout with Elaina Maxwell had been Strikeforce’s first foray into women’s MMA, but it took another couple years before female fighters became a regular feature there. By the time Coker purchased EliteXC’s assets and library, there seemed to be one obvious fight to make. The question was if the people who stood to make a lot of money off Carano’s good looks and perfect record would ever let it happen.

To Carano, it seemed too important not to happen.

“I remember thinking when I took that fight that there were so many big fights that so many people wanted to see throughout fight history that never happened,” Carano said. “And win or lose, I wasn’t going to let ‘Cyborg’ and I become one of those big fights that never happened.”

At the time, the MMA world was still figuring out what a force “Cyborg” was. The Brazilian began as something of a curiosity, the menacing female half of a husband-and-wife duo, both of them sharing the nickname that would come to define her more than him. It fit her, too. She had a way of firing punches with a machine-gun efficiency, overwhelming opponents with offense before finishing them with a kind of power not often seen in the women’s divisions.

At 23, she essentially knocked out Shayna Baszler twice in one fight in her U.S. debut for EliteXC, with referee Steve Mazzagatti coaxing her down from an early celebration atop the cage just so she could continue jackhammering Baszler with right hands until Baszler eventually collapsed face-first on the canvas.

In her first fight with Strikeforce after the EliteXC acquisition, she mauled a much smaller fighter in Hitomi Akano after missing weight, then celebrated as Carano watched from cageside, coyly biting her lip as the camera returned to her throughout a post-fight interview in which “Cyborg” vowed, via an interpreter, to “take Carano down.”

The two had met outside the cage a handful of times before their August bout. To Carano, “Cyborg’s” gentle demeanor in person was a stark contrast to the aggressive fighter she’d seen in action. At the ESPY awards before the bout, Carano watched as “Cyborg” and her then husband giggled with excitement at passing celebrities.

Cristiane Justino and Evangelista Santos

The way Justino remembers it, she “didn’t speak a lick of English” at the time, so the language barrier prevented the two from getting to know each other. All they had was a mutual respect, and the growing sense that a fight was inevitable.

“There was no rivalry between us,” Justino said. “It was just a language barrier. We didn’t really know anything about each other.”

Carano knew that “Cyborg” would likely be the most dangerous opponent she’d ever faced. While EliteXC had been criticized at times for trying to protect its valuable assets like Carano and internet brawler Kevin “Kimbo Slice” Ferguson, in Strikeforce she was thrown immediately into the toughest fight available, thereby giving Strikeforce a must-see event with a headliner that felt genuinely historic.

But as Carano entered the cage that night, the magnitude of the moment seemed to overpower her. Standing in the glow of a spotlight in an otherwise darkened arena, her face glistening with Vaseline, she looked across the cage at “Cyborg” and almost felt as if she were hovering over her own body, watching herself from afar.

In the opposite corner, “Cyborg” swayed from side to side as her husband spoke to her though the cage in a steady stream of encouragement. When announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr. introduced her as “the baddest woman south of the Equator,” fans pelted her with mixed boos.

“They were fans of Gina,” Justino said. “When I walked out, they booed me. And I was like, ‘OK, then.’”

For Carano, who by now could be seen sucking in deep, nervous breaths, it was a solid wall of cheers. And why not? It was an easy narrative to latch onto, with media outlets running the “beauty and the beast” story all week long. By the time they met each other in the center of the cage, Showtime commentator Gus Johnson managed to get it almost comically wrong, identifying “Cyborg” as a jiu-jitsu specialist, while hailing Carano as “a big-time puncher.”

“Cyborg” set the record straight in the opening seconds, charging forward and pinning Carano against the fence with a barrage of punches. But as Carano covered up, “Cyborg” grabbed her in a body lock and attempted a throw that only succeeded in pulling Carano on top of her, effectively gift-wrapping a dominant position for her opponent.

Cristiane Justino and Gina Carano

It was a baffling error that “Cyborg” would repeat again moments later, giving Carano an opening for her most significant offense of the fight as she hammered down punches from the top in full mount.

“I remember when I went to suplex her, like from the front, and I thought, ‘Wow, she’s heavy,’” Justino said. “I felt she was heavy. I remember that from the fight, that takedown attempt. And I also saw the fear in her face. When I punched her, I saw she didn’t want to be there.”

The way Carano remembers it, she was overwhelmed by adrenaline, her mind racing and her body on autopilot. Even when she found herself in full mount, she couldn’t say how she’d gotten there.

“I felt nothing,” Carano said. “I couldn’t tell you if she had snap on her punches or how strong she was. I remember seeing her on the ground and thinking, ‘How did I do that? I’m not even here.’”

The frantic pace seemed to slow somewhat as the fight returned to the feet, with “Cyborg” stalking forward and Carano trying to halt her progress with strikes from the outside. But “Cyborg” never stopped advancing, using her pressure to bait Carano into throwing so she could counter with stinging right hands on a visibly fatigued Carano.

After hauling Carano down late in the round, “Cyborg” finally had a chance to use her size and strength on the mat. An attempt at an Americana proved unsuccessful, so “Cyborg” stood over Carano and slammed down a series of right hands through Carano’s guard.

Cristiane Justino and Gina Carano

Sensing that she had Carano hurt, “Cyborg” moved into mount and blasted away with both fists as Carano rolled to her side, doing her best to cover up and wait out the storm as the final seconds of the round ticked away.

“You gotta fight back!” warned referee Josh Rosenthal.

But Carano was stuck, trapped against the fence with the force of “Cyborg’s” insistent violence pinning her down. Just as the air horn sounded to end the round, Rosenthal thrust himself forward to shove “Cyborg” off, waving the fight off as both commentators and viewers struggled to ascertain whether it was the end of the fight or just the opening round.

“Cyborg,” however, harbored no doubts. She leapt on the cage to celebrate, extending her arms like a giant hug for a crowd that still murmured with shock and confusion. Carano still lay on her back next to the fence, issuing no complaints about the stoppage as Rosenthal hovered over her. As she would recall later, the fight seemed to end in a flash, when in reality the official time of the stoppage was 4:59 of Round 1.

“Nothing hurt, because I couldn’t feel anything,” Carano said. “The first place I started having feeling again was in my chest when we were standing there and her hand was about to be raised. I went from feeling nothing to feeling everything, but only in my heart. It was an overwhelming ache. It was hard to hold in the emotion.”

In the cage, Carano clapped as “Cyborg’s” team strapped the inaugural Strikeforce women’s 145-pound title around her waist. As “Cyborg” thanked her fans and her coaches in a post-fight interview, Carano walked to the locker room and then sat down on the floor of a bathroom stall and cried quietly by herself.

The outcome, it seemed to her, was a worst-case scenario, something she almost hadn’t even thought possible. The pain she hadn’t felt in the fight was now flooding in, embarrassment and shame and disappointment all rolled into one terrible tsunami of emotion.

“The real heartbreak was that I felt I had broken so many other hearts other than my own,” Carano said. “Everyone who was with me that night that had so much hope in me. Beyond my family, coaches and training partners, there were people I didn’t even know who were heartbroken, and it gutted me. I felt like I completely failed.”

The day after the fight Carano woke with fresh bruises and a swollen lump above her eyebrow, though she couldn’t remember the strikes that had done it to her. She left San Jose and drove down the coast to San Diego with a friend, and two days later an agent called, one who’d previously seemed somewhat indifferent to her. He sounded excited, “like a little boy,” Carano said, his voice racing as he explained that a film director named Steven Soderbergh wanted to meet with her.

Carano was in no mood. She had a black eye. She wasn’t feeling particularly social. Plus, she didn’t know this Soderbergh.

“At the time, he could’ve directed porn for all I knew,” Carano said.

It was only when the agent told her that Soderbergh had directed the 2000 film “Traffic,” starring Michael Douglas and Benicio del Toro, that Carano changed her mind. She loved that movie, and in a strange way the film had helped her through a completely different heartbreak years earlier. Maybe its director could help her now. So she took the meeting, black eye and all, and from that her new career was born, with a starring role in Soderbergh’s 2011 film “Haywire” soon to follow.

From the outside, it looked as if she’d fled combat sports at the first taste of defeat. People said she’d been knocked out of MMA altogether, from the face of the sport to a distant memory after five minutes in the cage with “Cyborg.” That stung.

“It hadn’t been my intention to stop fighting,” Carano said. “I had no clue what all went into movie-making. Actually, when they called me back to do some reshoots after ‘Haywire,’ I said, ‘What’s a reshoot?’ I was in Thailand training.”

The way Carano saw it, she’d carved a path to the top of the sport and blazed a trail for the women that would follow. But what was she supposed to do now? The loss to “Cyborg” had set her back, and a film career seemed like an opportunity that might never come again.

“So I thought I might as well go explore this new world,” Carano said. “It became really hard to train after that, because I had a popular name and anywhere I would show up there would be pictures and video of my training, and I hated that. I was still learning and I had become more socially anxious than I had been before. I just wanted to do what I love, and learn in a safe environment. I hadn’t made millions of dollars to afford a private place and team, and I hated acting like I was all that important to want that kind of environment. But I did want privacy. It wasn’t fun for me if I couldn’t just disappear into training.”

As for “Cyborg,” the win left her alone on a mountaintop, which was both good news and bad. She’d wanted to cement herself as the most dominant woman in MMA, and she’d succeeded. But without a star like Carano in the opposite her corner, she struggled to draw the same kind of broad attention. She would defend her title three times in Strikeforce – never in a main event – before being stripped of the belt following a positive test for stanozolol in December 2011.

News of that drug test failure and ensuing suspension hurt Carano, she said in a subsequent interview.

“That fight with her was definitely the biggest moment of my mixed martial arts career and at that time I had people around me telling me she was on steroids and everything,” Carano said in 2012. “But, if there was a chance that she wasn’t, I never wanted to take anything away from her (win). She is a wonderful athlete, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t sting a little. In fact, I could have gone the rest of my life without hearing that. But, at the same time, she’s a human being and a phenomenal athlete, so maybe someone around her was telling her she needed to do that when she really didn’t. Maybe it was someone around her telling her the wrong things, I don’t know. I kind of feel bad for her.”

“Cyborg” would return to prominence with the all-female fight promotion Invicta FC, where she became champion before moving to the UFC and claiming the vacant women’s featherweight title there with a win over Tonya Evinger at UFC 214. Even she has to wonder sometimes if any of it – the career that followed or the UFC’s eventual embrace of women’s MMA in general – would have happened without that Carano fight.

“I think she did a lot for the sport, too,” Justino said. “I was very sad that she stopped fighting. I think everybody liked and likes her. I think if she ever fights again, the fans who were crazy over Ronda (Rousey) would probably go crazy over her, too. I think she could fight again, who knows.”

Gina Carano and Cristiane Justino

“Today in MMA History” is an MMAjunkie series created in association with MMA History Today, the social media outlet dedicated to reliving “a daily journey through our sport’s history.”

MMAjunkie’s Fernanda Prates contributed to this story.

Filed under: Featured, News, UFC
Source: MMA Junkie