One of the biggest fights in UFC history could be made later this year, if Gina Carano returns to mixed martial arts and is given a title shot against bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey.
It would be a massive event with the type of media coverage the UFC has never previously received.
A Rousey-Carano fight is one of the few bouts the UFC could make now that is a given to surpass 1 million pay-per-view sales.
Carano has not fought since a loss to Cris "Cyborg" Justino (then known as Cris Santos) on Aug. 15, 2009. Yet, in Yahoo's 2013 Year in Review, she was 10th on its list of the 10 most searched athletes of the year.
Think about that for a second: At the time the list was published on Dec. 3, Carano had not fought in 1,573 days. And she was 10th on a list of athletes that included Rousey, Tim Tebow, Tiger Woods and Serena Williams, among others.
Tom Brady on that list. No LeBron James or Kobe Bryant. She came out ahead of Derek Jeter and Mike Trout, Floyd Mayweather and Anderson Silva, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, as well as every soccer player in the world.There was no Peyton Manning or
Carano dropped a bombshell Thursday on The Arsenio Hall Show when she said she plans to meet with UFC president Dana White next week about the possibility of a return to competition.
The UFC acquired Carano's fighting contract when it purchased Strikeforce in 2011.
Carano's return would captivate the MMA world in a way that hasn't happened since perhaps the debut of Rousey in 2013 or of Brock Lesnar in 2008.
There are, of course, more than a few potential pitfalls to this dream scenario. The UFC does not have a weight class in which Carano would properly fit. Carano had trouble making 145 pounds when she was competing and that was in her 20s.
It's almost inconceivable that she could return before September – if she agrees to a specific fight in her meeting with White next week, it would only be four months until the five-year anniversary of her previous fight – and she'll be 32 by then.
It gets more difficult, not less, to make weight as one ages. It is hard to imagine Carano safely making 135 pounds.
White has been adamant in the past that he would not do what are known as "one-off" bouts, in which he would put Carano in a fight in a class the UFC doesn't have. He said at a media scrum before UFC 171 last month that he would not do a catchweight fight for Carano.
The UFC is adding a 115-pound women's class later this year, and so it's not inconceivable that it could add a 145-pound division.
But even if the UFC adds a women's featherweight division, that solves little, because the big fight is Rousey-Carano, and Rousey is a 135-pounder. Rousey has said she'd move up in weight to accommodate Carano, which would clear one hurdle, though not all.
"I would love that," Rousey said prior to UFC 171 of a potential match with Carano. "I've always said that. I never would have known women's MMA existed if I hadn't seen her fight. I never knew there was such a thing until her. To fight her would be a real honor, and I think it would be a milestone for the sport."
It would, but getting to that fight is not simple. Without a featherweight division, Carano would have to make bantamweight. And that then brings the entire Justino situation to the forefront.
White has ripped Justino's former manager, ex-UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz, for saying that Justino would die if she tried to make 135. White correctly asked how he could go to a state athletic commission to license her if both her manager and a doctor were on record saying she couldn't make 135 safely.
Justino told Yahoo Sports recently that it will be extremely difficult for her to make 135, but she is slowly working toward it and hopes to be able to do it by the end of the year.
A Rousey-Justino fight would be massive, as well.
But if White has legitimate concerns about Justino's safety fighting at 135, he'd have to have the same concerns about Carano. Those who saw her when she was fighting recall how often she looked weak and gaunt trying to make either 140 or 145.
The UFC could certainly use Carano who, like Rousey in 2012, appeared nude on the cover of ESPN The Magazine's annual body issue in 2009.
As popular as Rousey is – she's reaching a fan base the UFC traditionally doesn't reach, and is doing it in big numbers – there aren't a lot of major fights for her right now. With any of the opponents currently in the UFC now, Rousey would have to sell the fight all by herself.
Adding Carano and potentially Justino to the bantamweight division would super-charge it and make it perhaps the most interesting class in the sport.
It's not so simple, however, to get it done, and Carano isn't totally committed to it. During her interview with Hall, she was asked if she missed fighting and she said: "I 100 percent do. There's not a workout I go through that I'm not fighting somebody in my mind, and it's never gone away."
When Hall asked if she'd return, she grinned and said, "Yeah, I'm actually kind of considering it."
Note her choice of words: "Kind of considering it."
In the midst of a successful career as an actress, she has to consider whether she wants to once again go through the rigors of training camp and actually competing.
More to the point, she will have to decide whether she wants to put up with the extreme sacrifices she'll have to make to cut weight.
White may not make her decision easy on her, either. He's urged his friends, notably Chuck Liddell, to retire, and so it wouldn't be a stretch to believe that he could tell Carano next week he thinks it's best she forget the idea of fighting again. And it's extremely unlikely that he'd allow her to fight above 135, where Rousey is the champion.
Only Carano knows how she'll weigh all those issues. But she said "now is the moment" and told Hall that if she doesn't decide to make a comeback now, she'll step away for good from the sport that made her famous.
"I dream about [fighting]," she said. "I just didn't know if I was ever going to get placed with the opportunity to make a comeback. So I'm either going to do it now or retire and say, 'I'm never going to do it.'"
Her return would be a boon for MMA, but it's far from a given, and White himself could kill the deal.
But from now until the time she announces her decision, Carano is going to dominate the MMA headlines.
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