NEW YORK -- Gina Carano had every reason to smile. While promoting her new gig as "Natasha" in EA's Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3, the EliteXC fighter beamed as she spoke her recent successes.
Just two weeks prior at EliteXC: Heat, Carano extended her perfect professional record to seven wins with a unanimous-decision victory over Kelly Kobold.
Just a day prior, Carano was placed among female sports legends when she attended the Women's Sports Foundation's 2008 Salute to Women awards show.
And on this day, she was enjoying just her second trip to New York City -- a thrill she didn't even try to contain.
But it wasn't her past accomplishments that caused Carano to really light up. In February 2009, she's tentatively scheduled to fight Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos for EliteXC's first female title. SI.com got a chance to sit down with Carano to discuss her latest -- and future -- endeavors.
SI.com: What is your role in Command and Conquer?
Carano: I am a Soviet assassin. Pretty much I have a sniper and I bean people and drop bombs on them. And shoot people.
SI.com: How has it been working with EA?
Carano: They've definitely been my biggest sponsor to date, which speaks a lot about EA because they've taken that step and appreciate MMA as a sport. It's so hard to break into mainstream sponsors for our sport, so it's really nice that EA took that step and did that. And I think there are a lot of people who watch video games and also enjoy MMA, so they kind of correlate. It's just really cool to have the opportunity to be in a video game.
SI.com: Have you played as yourself yet?
Carano: No, I haven't actually. This is the first time I've seen the game. But it's really cool, and there are a bunch of big name actors in it (Jonathan Pryce, J.K.Simmons, George Tekei, Jenny McCarthy, Randy Couture and Tim Curry, to name a few).
SI.com: Have people started to recognize and come up to you now?
Carano: A couple people. There were a couple people that made me feel really good at the Women's Sports Foundation event. There was this one woman who was taking pictures for the event and she kept looking over at me. She had that look in her eye and I was like, 'She knows!' She came up to me and was like, 'I could totally get fired for this, but I couldn't let you leave without saying Hi.'
You could tell she really wasn't into all the MMA stuff, but she watched my fights.I get almost as nervous as the people that come up to me because I'm not used to it yet.
SI.com: Compare where you are now with where you were back in May as a part of EliteXC's (and MMA's) first prime-time showing.
Carano: It seems the more intense that every fight gets, the more worth it it is. The more of a fight it is, the better the fans get, the more they appreciate it, the more people actually get to see what's really happening. The more I do what I love, the more I follow my heart, they start to see that 'Oh, she doesn't do this for the wrong reasons.'
It's been a hard battle to get to here, but I'm thankful for it. I'm just so blessed to have gone through the things I have up until this point. It's all happening for a reason.
SI.com: Has anyone ever treated you differently in training?
Carano: I don't think you can get past the fact that I'm female. But now I'm female with a name. I've taken a lot of ass-whoopins for being a female. And sometimes the guys are like, 'Oh, you want to be a part of our sport? Really? Because this is a real sport.' They may go harder on you because they want to teach you a lesson, and I know that happens at gyms all over to females. To me, I just want to be like, 'I'm going through it too, but on a bigger level because I have a name and people want to put me in my place.'
So if you hang in there for those first couple of whoopins, you earn this weird sort of respect from these guys who change their minds. It's a cool thing when a guy does a complete 180 and realizes that you're in there and you're trying and you got some skills, though you may not be as strong as them. You may not have their knock-out power, but you may learn technique faster.
But on the flip side, there are guys who are completely supportive of [women fighting] and those who are just craving a different kind of woman. They're tired of seeing the Britney Spears and the Paris Hiltons and now they're like, 'This is someone who's actually doing something.'
I'm not perfect, I've had mistakes in my career, but at least I'm out there and I'm trying to do something with myself. I'm giving little tomboys like me some to look up to.
SI.com: What are your hopes for the future?
Carano: At the Women's Sports Foundation event, and it was good in one regard because I got so inspired by all the amazing athletes, by Billie Jean King's story. But at the same time my heart hurt because I was like, 'Where's MMA in all that? We're a sport too.'
People don't want to accept our sport and don't want to follow it for whatever reason, and it kind of hurt. I don't care if it's me up there, but I want someone from our sport. I take a lot of pride in our sport, so it charged me to do more.
In February I'll be fighting for a title belt, which will be the first for females in EliteXC. I'm fighting Cyborg, an amazing opponent, to have a title bout with. People are looking at me like, 'She's gonna get killed.'
Eventually I want to see my sport right up there at these events and award ceremonies. In every single household, I doubt there isn't one person who doesn't know what jiu-jitsu or muay thai or boxing is. It's everywhere, and it's helping people to improve their lives whether they fight or not. And to have it not be considered a sport in America is a big fault in the country.
SI.com: Do you see yourself as the "Billie Jean King of MMA"?
Carano: I wouldn't say that. No, I'm just glad to be a part of it and I'll probably just look back on it later and say, 'Oh, I had a little part here.'
SI.com: So you're pumped about the Cyborg fight, huh?
Carano: I really am! I've never been so pumped for a fight in my life. I think before this last fight I was like, 'Gosh, Cyborg's a beast!' -- in the most respectful way that I could call a person a beast. I like to be called a beast. It's a good thing.
But I've never been so pumped for a fight. It's given me this amazing focus right now that I don't usually have two weeks after a fight. I'm relaxed a little bit and I'm going to jump back into training and try to learn as much as I can. I'm on a good, healthy path right now. After my last fight, I feel really good about where I'm at.