Commentary

Carano ready to Crush the competition inside the cage

The world may know her as Crush from "American Gladiatiors," but Gina Carano wants to be known as much for her takedowns and strikes as for her on-TV persona, writes Michael Woods.

Originally Published: May 13, 2008
By Michael Woods | Special to ESPN.com

Gina CaranoTom Casino/WireImageFive wins and counting: Gina Carano, left, is steadily climbing the MMA ranks.
Gina Carano typically likes to have two full months of hard-core training to get ready for an MMA fight.

She will have only three weeks to get into mental and physical condition to take on Kaitlin Young on CBS's Elite XC card on May 31.

But the Texas native, who is known as Crush on NBC's "American Gladiators," understands that a fighter has to branch out before a career reaches its tail end, so they can have a vocational Plan B to fall back on when the fighting's done.

The 26-year-old Carano, who holds a 5-0 record since debuting in June 2006, is the most well-known female MMA fighter; she finds herself in that slot after having a scant handful of bouts, but it cannot be said that the label is undeserved.

Her skills are considerable, as she has played catch-up, and beefed up her jiu-jitsu to bring it up to par with her considerable Muay Thai foundation.

Couple that with her striking appearance -- the offspring of former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Glenn Carano and mother Dana is genetically gifted, from an aesthetic perspective -- and her role on the "American Gladiator," it is understandable that a fighter with only a few pro fights under her belt is seen as the face of women's MMA.

Carano checked in with ESPN.com Monday afternoon. The second season of "American Gladiator" was kicking off on NBC that night, but she was working on getting herself out of Crush mode and into the fight mentality she'll need to get to 6-0 when she meets 4-1 Kaitlin Young on CBS's first MMA foray on May 31.

Was she out of Crush character, away from the world of re-shoots, complimentary lighting angles and branding, and into fight mode?

This will be an extremely tough fight for me. She [Young] has been training her [butt] off for me.

-- Gina Carano, on her opponent, Kaitlin Young

"We finished shooting last Saturday and I am in surprisingly good condition," she says. "I tried to train while I was shooting for the last two-and-a-half months, and I'm mentally good. But this will be an extremely tough fight for me. She [Young] has been training her [butt] off for me.

"Last week I was in no mode; I was kind of detached. But every day that goes by I get more into fight mode. I'm in transition."

Carano took the May 31 gig with a touch of reluctance. Her management wanted it, and she knew it would be good exposure, but she concedes that the minimal prep time could prove costly.

"I hope it doesn't bite me in the butt," she says with a good-natured chuckle. "Kaitlin is going to try and punch me as much she can stand to."

Carano is mindful that she's received a boatload of press for someone with just five pro fights. She's been hesitant, she says, to dive in headfirst on the branding, as she's noted some people with fewer fights than her putting up fancy Web sites and such.

Carano has gotten some good advice, both on fighting and carrying herself as a public figure, from "Gladiator" host Laila Ali. The boxer's eyes lit up when she saw Carano during the first round of filming in December. She saw a skilled athlete who could potentially serve as a ring adversary.

The 5-foot-8 Carano quickly assured the 5-foot-10 Laila that they weren't in the same weight class (Carano fights at around 140 pounds, while Ali tips the scale at around 168 pounds on fight night).

The two women also bonded over their personalities. Each has a direct way of communicating which can be misconstrued as snobbishness from critics.

Carano likely will not have to hunt as hard as Ali has had to in order to find foils who can challenge her and make meaningful paydays.

Tara LaRosa, Amanda Buckner, Shayna Baszler, Cris Cyborg and Debbie Purcell are some of the names Carano throws out when asked who might emerge as a compelling opponent in a superfight down the road.

First, though, there is mental transitioning to finish, and Young to contend with.

Carano doesn't need Ali, or anyone else, to clue her in on this fact: In the cage, the definition of "branding" is quite different than outside the cage. One's face can get branded with scrapes and cuts if you are on the wrong end of a ground 'n' pound session.

Michael Woods, the managing editor of TheSweetScience.com, has written for ESPN The Magazine, GQ and The New York Observer.

Michael Woods, a member of the board of the Boxing Writers Association of America, has been covering boxing since 1991. He writes about boxing for ESPN The Magazine and is the news editor for TheSweetScience.com.