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HONOLULU – Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White has repeatedly stated he doesn’t have any interest in bringing women’s mixed martial arts to his promotion.
With every succeeding Gina Carano match, the stance seems less and less tenable.
Carano has become the face of women’s MMA. And it isn’t just because she’s a pretty face. Gina Carano can fight, something she proved yet again on Saturday. After spending most of the first round in trouble, Carano rallied to beat a game Tonya Evinger. Carano used a rear naked choke to defeat Evinger with eight seconds remaining in the round.
With the win, Carano, who trains at the Extreme Couture gym in Las Vegas, upped her record to 5-0. It was the first submission win of her career.
“This is such a relief for me because there was a lot of pressure coming into this fight,” said Carano. “I knew I had to come out with a win.”
That outcome seemed far from a certainty in the early going, as Carano found herself looking up at the Blaisdell Center lights, courtesy a nasty Evinger (5-2) right hand.
“I’ve been hit before,” said Carano. “Honestly, sometimes you have to have someone slap the hell out of you to wake you up. It made me realize I was in a fight and got me to focus.”
But first, she had to find a way back to her feet. Evinger turned heads at the pre-fight press conference by saying, “I’d like to make out with Gina, but I’m here to knock her out,” and she nearly finished off her foe. At one point, working from side control, she nearly managed to isolate Carano’s arms and start delivering rights a la Matt Hughes vs. BJ Penn 2, but Carano managed to avoid the position at the last minute.
With about a minute left in the round, Carano managed to switch position and assume control from the top. Her first attempt at a choke didn’t finish the fight. But Evinger, in her attempts to escape the choke, ended up face-down in a prone position on the mat, and Carano took advantage of her exposed foe and sunk in the choke for the win.
“I was just thinking ‘I want to choke her,” said Carano. “This was really big for me. Everyone always said my standup is good, but I can’t finish people on the ground. It’s great getting my first submission out of the way.”
The estimated crowd of 7,000 agreed with Carano. She got one of the loudest reactions of any fighter on the show, particularly from the women in attendance.
“I guess I never really thought of myself as a role model, but if some young girl is looking up to me and sees me as something to aspire to, that’s really great.”
Even if the UFC can’t see it yet. “Hey, we have to fight for our recognition, just like the guys did,” said Carano. “It was just a few years ago that we all didn’t get the recognition, the guys and the girls. All we can do is show what we’ve got and hopefully win people over by doing it one fight at a time, like we did tonight.”
More weight classes?
Elite XC promoter Gary Shaw, who comes from a boxing background, is looking to make MMA more like boxing by adding more weight classes. Nick Diaz and Mike Aina fought at 160 pounds on Saturday.
“It is a health and safety issue,” said Shaw. “You have guys losing a lot of weight and then putting it back on. … I don’t think any commission is going to object to instituting something that is going to improve the health and safety of the fighters.
One person opposed to the notion is two-time former UFC welterweight champ Matt Hughes. “The whole idea of having unified rules across the sport is to give the sport credibility,” Hughes said. “That’s why the commissions instituted these rules, so we would be taken seriously as a legitimate sport. If these guys want to be taken seriously as a real promotion, they need to follow the same rules that are being instituted everywhere else.”