Gina Carano as Angel Dust
Gina Carano, the western mainstream's first breakthrough women's MMA star, occupies an interesting place in the current psyche of the sport. Sometimes she's a haunting specter that looms over the current UFC women's Bantamweight division, a will-she-or-won't-she prospect that has been perpetually rumored to be on the verge of signing a deal with the promotion and taking on a legacy fight for years now. Sometimes she's a boogeyman of sorts, the topic of handwringingthinkpieces that started popping up in the wake of Ronda Rousey's UFC 193 loss, wondering if the former champ would walk away from the sport to focus on her acting career the way that Carano did following her similarly devastating knockout loss against Cristiane "Cyborg" Justino in 2009. On occasion, she's even given some props for the groundbreaking role she played in making women's mixed martial arts what it is today.
Last month at a media luncheon to promote his January 30 fight against Ben Rothwell, Josh Barnett argued that Rousey might not be where she is today—or where she was a few months ago—without Carano. "Before Ronda there was Gina. Gina was as big if not bigger, although what Gina did was she paved the way for the ability to be in the PR machine and possibly work your way up a ladder that wasn't available before. So prior to Gina would there be a Ronda? I don't know. Maybe not."
The place that MMA plays in Carano's psyche these days is even less clear. Despite some allegedly close calls with the UFC's dotted line, she continues to focus on acting, and business appears to be good. She has five projects slated to debut this year, including Scorched Earth, Kickboxer: Vengeance, and Deadpool, which opens this weekend. And she would really like to expand her range in the coming years.
"I have this really nice skill of making action look really real. When I throw a punch, I feel like people believe it. Of course, what I want to do is a romantic comedy. Or a drama," Carano told film magazine Little White Lies this month. "That's what I want. All the stuff I watch and I think 'Oh, it would be awesome to tell this kind of story.' But I'm over here in action land where every actress in Hollywood seems like they want to be."
She's also expressed a desire to spend more time in the Marvel universe after her experience playing the adrenaline-fueled Angel Dust in Deadpool while waxing philosophically on her current drive and focus. "I would love to," Carano told Screen Rant when asked about the possibility of doing another Marvel film. "I honestly would love to. I've gotten to the point in life where I'm like… I used to stress out about what the next job was going to be. But now I've gotten to the place where it always seems to work itself out. As long as you are putting in the hard work, you are getting better, you are learning, and you are putting yourself out there, I think that things end up working themselves out."
And yet fighting—and not just the choreographed kind she's performing against giant mutants and superheroes named after Monster Magnet songs in her latest movie—is never that far from her mind, either. It's interesting to see the way that it comes up in the press surrounding Deadpool, too. It's not a cynical ploy for attention or press. Carano's at a point in her newer career where she doesn't really need to tease a return to MMA to maintain interest. Her time in the cage is little more than a fun footnote in interview introductions to most of the people who are writing about her and interviewing her now.
When it does come up, as it did when Fox Sports talked to Carano about film, fighting, and Ronda Rousey in a two part interview last December, there's a thoughtful, maybe even wistful quality to her thoughts on returning to MMA. In a way, she doesn't sound that much different than any other professional fighter contemplating the time and health sacrifices involved in jumping back into a sport that has almost equal capacity for danger and doom as fulfillment and triumph. Or maybe she just sounds like any other professional with a highly demanding career trying to weigh her dedication to her job and her love for her discipline.
"I've moved out of LA to outside San Francisco to train and grow in a different atmosphere artistically and personally. I needed to change the way I was going. I haven't been this inspired in a long time," Carano told Fox Sports. "It's something you can want but can never fake. I've just begun to dream again so we will see what 2016 holds. Training, art and people have always helped me open my mind and heart."