DAVE HOLLANDER: When was the first time you knew that you enjoyed punching someone in the face?
GINA CARANO: I think the first time was probably in a basketball game in high school. You know how you go down for those loose balls? We were all on the ground. And we’re like this Single-A Christian school. And this girl had a problem. Because you know, I guess we were both being really way too aggressive. She stood up and called me and explicit name. So I overhand-righted her. We both got thrown out of the game. (pauses) Actually, she started charging me first, then I over-hand righted her.
DH: How did it feel?
GC: I felt wonderful. Except the embarrassing part was I didn’t know how to throw a punch. The overhand right just came natural. But then I just started bonking her on the top of her head all awkwardly. So me and my friends had a really good laugh about that. They were like “Why were you bonking her on her head?” And I was like “I don’t know!”
DH: Many consider you more of stand-up fighter because of your Muay Thai training. What other disciplines have you studied and which one has been the hardest to learn?
GC: I’ve studied Muay Thai boxing, a little bit of wrestling and I’ve tried to make Jiu-Jitsu my main ground game technique. I think each of them have their own challenges in learning and I have very technically savvy trainers so they really pick things apart as far as where to hold to your hands and how to stand and how to snap your punches. With Jiu-Jitsu, there’s just so much to learn because there’s so many holds and so many different levels. It’s just a massive amount of knowledge. Then again I started with Muay Thai and it's just, I don’t know, it’s just awesome. I love the technique that surrounds [Muay Thai]. Right now, Jiu-Jitsu is probably the toughest to learn just because there’s so much knowledge. But you need to learn it and I’m trying to do that as fast as possible.
DH: So right now do you feel less comfortable going to the mat?
GC: No. Any fights I’ve ever been in outside the ring, which all stopped when I started fighting of course, they all went to the ground. I’m not trying to draw comparisons between street fighting and cage fighting because they’re different. But I feel very comfortable in going to the ground because it’s very natural. And I grew up with a bunch of guys and we always wrestled around. Actually the wrestling was always easier for me because I was smaller and I could get out of situations whereas they were bigger and used more of the punching to hold me down.
DH: How much street fighting did you do?
GC: Not a lot. But I definitely had my fair share of fights before my sophomore year of college. A few fights during high school, a couple fights during college.
DH: And these weren’t organized things. These just happened?
GC: Yeah ‘cuz I’m kind of quieter, I think. And people take that the wrong way. So when you’re quieter and you don’t walk into a place expecting all the attention in the world but you just keep to yourself – some females had a problem with that. Or I’ve been in a couple group fights where we got jumped. Sometimes you just gotta defend yourself. They’ve all been just causes, believe me.
DH: Right now, if someone gave you your choice of being an undisputed MMA champion, a movie star, or the number one most-searched person on Google – which would you pick?
GC: I definitely, without a doubt, would pick undisputed MMA champion. To actually have people look at me like that; have an awesome record and have people really understand that I got there by myself – myself and my team – and I did it, and I’m for real. The biggest problem I’ve run into right now is people don’t believe it.
DH: Is that because you’re on a TV show and you’re in movies and magazines and video games. So you obviously know a thing or two about marketing. In the end what’s the ultimate goal for you?
GC: I ask myself that every single day. The answer is I didn’t know where this was going when I started. I didn’t start fighting because people were watching. I started fighting because I love to do it. And now, nothing has changed really except for more opportunities. I still fight because I love it. I look around and all these people who have MMA clothing coming out and other stuff going on and I think to myself that “Gosh, what are you doing? You gotta figure this out.”
But I can’t force myself to do something I don’t like. I don’t know what else I’m supposed to do. I enjoy fighting for right now. I’m trying to take opportunities but at the same time I can’t put a bunch of energy into stuff that is not my interest. You know the American Gladiators thing was a lot of fun. I met a lot great people. And I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do that. Maybe I need to force myself to do more things that I’m not comfortable doing, because if I had my way I’d probably just live off of fighting. But you can’t do that forever so I’m trying to figure out what other talents I have.
DH: Some MMA critics gave you heat for failing to make weight in your national network televised bout with Kaitlin Young. FanHouse's Michael David Smith said "If she can't make weight for the biggest fight in the history of women's mixed martial arts, she's not dedicated enough to her sport." How do you respond to that kind of criticism?
GC: You know, I go through times when I really take it personally. I do let it hurt me and affect me sometimes. I’m just like “Why?” I’m really trying the best I can right now. Like when did America start destroying people’s dreams and telling them what they can’t do instead of telling people what they can do and encouraging it? With all the criticism, not just for weight, but for looks and from my opponents – people just love to tear into anything that is making another person happy. We should back each other and get behind each other and really encourage this kind of stuff. I’m fighting. I’m not hurting anybody except the person across the ring from me. If anything, people are being inspired by it. But then another part of me knows that I’m a stronger person for it.
I knew from the beginning that people in America get built up and they get trashed and brought down. For some reason that’s what we enjoy seeing. I don’t. So it’s opened my view of how the world is working and where to protect myself and to really enjoy the people in my life – my family – and not buy into the bull---t. So if somebody is trying to hype me or somebody is trying to hype another fighter, I’m going to just look at me for who I am and her for who she is. Or even like when it comes to actors – meeting famous people or whatever – it shows me these people have a life and a heart. It’s really been a beautiful thing what being criticized has done for me, but at the same time it’s not the best feeling in world all the time.
DH: If you could fight anyone, who would you fight?
GC: Tara LaRosa. And I want to say that I respect her. She’s got an amazing record and she’s got really good people. She’s got 12 wins 1 loss and 1 draw. And I want to fight her, not because I’m trying to call her out or anything but because I want to test myself against what everyone else thinks is the best. But the up and comers in the sport are the ones to watch out for too. A hungry Kaitlin Young – I look at her the same way I look at Tara LaRosa. You never know. I was an up and comer, I had all these girls laughing at me like I wasn’t serious. Then I’d whoop ‘em. So I would watch out for who’s coming. But Tara LaRosa, for sure.
DH: The co-host of American Gladiators is boxer Laila Ali. She is another fighter who, like you, does a lot more than fight and seems to destroy all her opponents. How great would it be to have you fight Laila Ali?
GC: Laila Ali is amazing. We do have a lot in common. But we are nowhere near the same weight class so I don’t think it's even an option. You know, I would fight anyone but I really have a lot of respect for Laila Ali and I’m not gonna be like those other girls that will call anybody out. I think Laila is a beautiful person. She’s pregnant right now. I want her to do everything she can. Have a beautiful family, beautiful life. And I hope that people respect her career and stop acting like she’s feeding off her father because she didn’t have to choose that life. She did it because she wanted to. And she was really good at it. People try to destroy her career like they do mine now, instead of looking at it for what it was which was beautiful. I really love her.
DH: You’re slated to appear in an MMA action movie "Blood and Bone" with Michael Jai White. But in a recent interview you said you had “this crazy idea for a romantic comedy set in an MMA gym.” Tell how that would work exactly?
GC: Because that’s my life, man! I mean, can you imagine my situation? It’s just a very funny situation trying to date and find a guy that is comfortable in this world with me doing what I’m doing. I just think it’d be a really funny story people would really like.
DH: What have been some of the more humorous moments in your search for a significant other?
GC: I don’t really even want to say it because I don’t want certain guys to read it – but okay: So these guys know they’re dating a fighter, right. I’m the fighter. But they’re not fighters and they’ve maybe never fought anybody in their life. And what kills me is when they try to throw punches. And nobody’s ever taught them how to throw punches before. But they do it trying to impress me, I guess, or I don’t know what – just to show me that they can throw punches too. So they’re shadow boxing, and you could seriously feel my heart drop out of my pants. (laughing) I mean, what the hell? If you don’t know how to do it, don’t do it. You don’t have to impress me that way. It’s been a problem. Little situations like that. If you don’t know how, then just make me laugh. Don’t pretend you know how to fight. You know what I mean?
DH: You just want them to be who they really are.
GC: I don’t need you to be (pauses) ... because a lot of guys are like “I want to be able to protect you.” And I’m like “Dude, I’m sure natural instincts will kick in somewhere and if you’re that into it then go take a couple classes.” Just make me laugh, and that will be okay.
DH: You’ve said you wouldn’t pose for Playboy but you were voted “Hottest Woman in America,” in the spring issue of Big Biz magazine and you were featured in a Maxim pictorial. Would you say that you’ve come to embrace your sex appeal?
GC: That something I think that’s gotten a little confused in the past. I never didn’t embrace it. I’m okay with people looking at pictures and saying “Oh she’s attractive.” Or whatever people say when they look at my pictures. I’ve never tried to be anything I wasn’t . I didn’t go into the sport to act more manly. I didn’t enjoy that. I’ve kept myself the same way from when I started. So I never didn’t embrace it. Actually, the older you get the more you continually embrace it, right? I’m trying to embrace it more. (laughs) I don’t know, this whole sex appeal thing, people ... (pause, and deep sigh) ... I don’t really get it. It’s just like why can’t a girl with decent looks fight and not have that be an excuse for her getting attention? I like to fight. And I probably need to focus more on my looks, but I don’t.
DH: You are the Russian Spy Natasha, in the EA video game Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3. But talking to you now, you don’t strike me as the kind of person who gets into video games. Do you?
GC: (giggles) No. Actually I have Nintendo and that’s like he last video game I ever played. Sometimes I’ll still hook it up and play it. I played my friend’s Guitar Hero and II really like that game. I did it because it was a good opportunity.
DH: But I can’t see you as someone who sits in room, inactive, playing video game all day.
GC: No I don’t. But they sponsored me and they put down some money and I really appreciate that. I wasn’t a huge part of the video game. They said they’d sponsor me and help me out and that’s what fighters live off of, so I took it.
DH: After tallying a record of 12-1-1 in Muay Thai, you received an offer to participate in the first ever female sanctioned MMA bout in Nevada. You were invited to a World Pro Fighting show in Las Vegas to fight and then you were in the first all-female fight on national network television for Elite XC on CBS. What sense do you have of yourself as a pioneer for women's MMA?.
GC: I know since I’ve gotten into the sport a lot of things have happened. I know lot of things have happened that might not otherwise have happened because I was a part of them. I just know that God has this timing with things. And I think I’ve just been blessed through him to be a part of these things. That’s how I think. I respect myself enough to realize that what I’ve done for the sport so far has been significant and I’m proud of it. But I know that was not through my doing. That was through God blessing me and letting me be a part of it. And I don’t know where’s its going to go. I entered this sport because it was a place I actually fit. It’s a place where people accepted me for me. So I love that I’ve been able to do as much as I’ve done. I’m just honored to be part of it whatever level I’m in or am going to be in.
DH: Despite your growing popularity, UFC head Dana White, currently the big dog in MMA, is not into promoting women’s fighting. What’s his problem?
GC: What’s Dana White’s problem? (laughs) I’m not about to tell him what his problem is. But it brings up a good point. Elite XC is building up a female division and right now they’re trying to grab every female they possibly can. The female division isn’t as big as the make division. So I think it’s very appropriate that Elite XC takes over the female division. As the sport grows maybe, eventually [Dane White] will look at it. Maybe after there’s more females into the sport that will happen. I think he would’ve liked having me if that was the case. I think he’s seen what we’ve; done with Elite XC in the female division I wouldn’t’ doubt it if the thought has crossed his mind more than a million times by now. But we’ll just wait and be patient and work our way just like everyone else has in this sport.
DH: What advice would you give for other females looking to take up Muay Thai or another martial arts discipline and fight professionally?
GC:I think I would say, if you’re going to do something you gotta do it for the right reasons. You gotta do it for yourself. And you have to keep who you are in mind. Because once people start noticing you for what you’re doing and they start throwing in all the things that they think you should be doing or how you should be acting or dressing . I think people girls especially in today’s world they probably need to just hold onto themselves and not let other people confuse that. And definitely don’t get in the sport just because you think it’s cool. Because getting punched in the face repeatedly cannot be cool sometimes.