UFC president Dana White said over the weekend he was preparing to sign fighter/actor Gina Carano to a contract to fight in the league he runs.
“I’m going to meet with Gina next week and get that f—ing thing done. Next week, man,” White told ESPN.com. “It’s just a matter of me and [CEO] Lorenzo [Fertitta] going to jump on a plane to Los Angeles, get in a room with her and her lawyer and get this thing done.”
There’s no question the signing makes sense for the UFC in the short-term. Carano is a marketable star in the sport, as illustrated by her title run in Strikeforce and EliteXC. She’s beautiful obviously, but she does have a legitimate résumé in mixed martial arts. That’s more than can be said for most athletes marketed on their looks (i.e., Anna Kournikova).
But White is making a big mistake here. And we have three reasons why.
1. Who does she fight?
Carano has no opponents in the UFC — literally. She’s always struggled to meet the various weight limits imposed during her MMA career. She often fought at 140 pounds in EliteXC, and could not make the weight on multiple occasions. She weighed in at 144 1/2 pounds in her attempt to fight Kaitlin Young in May 2008 and forfeited part of her purse. She infamously had to strip naked to make 141 pounds for a fight against Kelly Kobold in October 2008. She should be fighting in the 145-pound class she eventually ended up in for her last fight (a loss to Cris “Cyborg” Santos”) in Strikeforce.
The problem for UFC is their ultra-marketable women’s star is Ronda Rousey, who fights at 135 pounds. There’s no chance at all Carano makes 135 pounds. The UFC has no other weight classes for women. So what exactly is White’s plan? Do they create a 145-pound class just for Carano? The promotion is creating a 115-pound class for women, so they may have to do the same for Carano at 145. But how does that help set up UFC for the only fight casual fans want to see: Carano vs. Rousey? Rousey has said she’d fight Carano at whatever weight she wanted, but that was before Carano was actually an option as part of the UFC. It doesn’t make a ton of sense for Rousey to risk her reputation against someone 10 pounds heavier than her even if she’d be favored.
2. Ring rust
Carano hasn’t fought in a competitive bout in five years — the loss to Cyborg in August 2009. In the meantime, she’s been starring in movies like “Haywire” and “Fast & Furious 6.” Is she only returning to the Octagon because her film career is stalled? Or because she actually wants to be an elite fighter? You can’t compete in the UFC, or any major sport, and only be half committed.
There’s also the reality that Carano hasn’t fought since she was 27. She is now 32. She missed the prime five years of any professional sports career to be an actress. It’s not that 32 is too old to be a fighter, but it’s not optimal for someone who hasn’t been in a competitive bout in half a decade. Remember, she’s no longer the young gun at 25, 26, 27 looking to knock off veterans. She’s the veteran. Rousey turned 27 earlier this year and is just now entering the prime of her career.
3. How good is she, really?
As I stated above, Carano is not a fraud in the ring, created solely for marketing purposes, like Kimbo Slice. She worked her way up through the kickboxing circuit and was 12-1-1 in Muay Thai competition before transitioning to MMA. She may not have been an Olympian, like Rousey, but Carano paid her dues before making her way to EliteXC and Strikeforce.
And yet, we still don’t really know how good Carano was, or is. Her entire MMA career in EliteXC and then Strikeforce was working its way up to a bout with Santos. And she lost by TKO at 4:59 in the first round. Even against lesser competition like Kobold, who is 31 and out of the sport, it went the distance.
There’s no question marketability is important in all fighting sports, but the results have to be there for fans to continue caring. Her loss to Cyborg put a big damper on that. It would surprise no one in the MMA community if Carano never got a chance to come against Rousey before her luster was gone. Not to mention a lot of the UFC’s money.
Follow Metro New York Sports Editor Mark Osborne on Twitter @MetroNYSports.