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Girl Power: Carano's KO adds spice to male-dominated EliteXC card


There's only so many ways to ask the same question:

What do you think this means for female mixed martial arts? How will this fight change the future for women fighters? How do you feel about this? What are you thoughts?

No matter the words, no matter the tone, no matter the inquirer -- Gina Carano's heard it all. And on Saturday at the Prudential Center, she seemed to answer everyone's question without saying anything.

The "female face of MMA," Carano has become a pioneer in the sport; and on Saturday, she continued blazing her already lengthy trail: as the first female brawler to capture a victory on prime-time television.

In front of 8,033 fans in Newark and millions across the country, Carano extended her perfect record to 6-0 with a victory over Kaitlin Young. Young threw Carano a slew of punches and held her on the mat for much of the first round, but Carano jumped on the second round. Literally.

"Conviction" justified the chants of "Gina! Gina! Gina!" by the Prudential Center crowd having sent Young a string of punches to create a purple welt the side of a tennis ball under her left eye. earned Carano the win by TKO (doctor order stoppage) three minutes into the second round.

But Saturday was just the latest mile marker for Carano and, by association, female MMA.

She laid the first stones of her path in June 2006 against Leiticia Pestova. In the first Nevada State Athletic Comission-sanctioned female bout, Carano only needed 39 seconds to ground-and-pound Pestova into defeat.

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Two more wins -- one of which made her the first female victor in Strikeforce MMA -- and eight months later, Carano propelled her career at the inaugural show of EliteXC. Her unanimous-decision win against Julie Kedzie branded Carano as the first woman to fight on a nationally televised MMA event (on Showtime). In the minds of many, the Kedzie-Carano bout took "fight of the night" props.

And if that wasn't enough in the short time she's been on the pro circuit, Carano quickly made her face a regular among, not just MMA followers, but also network TV viewers through other outlets.

She's known as "Crush" on the re-make of the series "American Gladiators," appeared on the Oxygen Network's "Fight Girls" and MSNBC's "Warrior Nation," is set to appear in the upcoming video game "Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3."

Karyn Bryant, the "sideline reporter" for EliteXC, summed up her feeling, and perhaps that of many others, by simply glancing over at Carano and Young and saying, "I'm glad those women will be out there and not holding up cards."

While the two battled on the mat, roughly 20 of their peers strutted around in barely-there spandex bikini tops and shorts, and high-heel boots that put Cher to shame . No judgment, but Carano's made it clear that she has no desire to be a cheerleader. Or, on the opposite extreme, a Tonya Harding-like, fame-hungry rebel.

She maybe a TV regular and, eh hem, "hottie," but she's also won the respect of many MMA devotees, fellow male fighters, trainers and even commentators as a true brawler. Keep in mind, the so-called mainstream WNBA is still searching for that type of recognition.

However, some have questioned her dedication to the sport as she's failed to make weight four times for a bout -- the last of which was on Friday at weigh-ins for EliteXC. Coming in at four-and-a-half pounds over the 140-pound limit, Carano was saved by Young's decision to accept 12 1/2 percent of her foe's purse instead of making Carano shed the extra pounds.

The repeated gaffes by Carano on the scales, and repeated concessions by promotions that have allowed her to fight after supposedly breaking the rules of the game, have caught the attention of MMA followers, but it has yet to taint her unmatched tenacity in the cage.

Could Carano's errs prove that there's no such thing as a flawless athlete, even if one on paper? Sure. And perhaps such controversy only makes one that much more intriguing. Kevin "Kimbo Slice" Ferguson anyone?

But one thing's for sure with Carano: Girl got game.