There are a number of former MMA fighters transitioning from the octagon to the silver screen these days. But few have had as much success in both arenas as Gina Carano. Carano has been in the news a lot this week after she posted a risque photo that Instagram eventually took down. Her response to the situation also went viral.
Carano cut her teeth in MMA in the mid-2000s but soon transitioned into acting. After nearly a decade in various starring and supporting roles, she emerged in 2019 as one of breakout stars of the Disney+ hit series The Mandalorian.
Carano’s character in the show, Cara Dune, is a former Rebel Alliance shock trooper turned mercenary. She made her debut in Episode 4 and quickly became a fan favorite. She is set to return to the show in the highly-anticipated season two.
But just who is the person who made such a seamless transition from fighting to filming? As it turns, out she’s quite a trailblazer in women’s MMA, as well as being a versatile actor and athlete.
Here is everything you need to know about Gina Carano:
Her father won a Super Bowl with the Dallas Cowboys.
While Roger Staubach and Danny White were the main signal callers for Tom Landry during the 1970s and 1980s, Glenn Carano was holding the clipboard as the third-string quarterback. A star QB at UNLV, Carano was a second-round pick by the Cowboys in 1977. Eight months later, Carano would share in the team’s glory as they beat the Denver Broncos to win Super Bowl XII.
Despite appearing in 36 games in a seven-year career, Carano mainly saw spot duty. He started just one game in his career: A 37-13 win over the Baltimore Colts in 1981.
The highlight of his career was when he came on for an injured Danny White against the Chicago Bears on Thanksgiving. He led Dallas to a 10-9 comeback win that day.
She was a high school basketball star.
Carano was a three-sport athlete at Trinity Christian High School in Las Vegas, Nevada. But while she enjoyed playing volleyball and softball, she found the greatest success on the basketball court.
She credits her grandfather Jack Cason, the team’s coach, with giving the team a great work ethic. And it definitely paid off. As a senior in 2000, Carano and the Thunder won the Nevada state championship.
Carano decided not to pursue basketball much farther though. After college, she took up Muay Thai kickboxing and soon went professional, going 12-1-1 in the sport.
She fought in Nevada’s first sanctioned female MMA bout.
It didn’t take long for Carano to transition from professional Muay Thai to MMA. In 2006, she received an offer to compete in the prestigious World Extreme Fighting promotion in the first sanctioned bout between two women in the state of Nevada.
Facing off against Leiticia Pestovа, Carano won her fight by TKO in just 38 seconds.
Three months later, Carano beat undefeated Rosi Sexton with a second-round TKO to claim her second victory.
From there, Carano’s MMA career took off to greater heights.
Her first MMA loss and last fight was against Cris Cyborg.
Between 2006 and 2008, Carano went 7-0 with three knockouts, one submission and three unanimous decision wins. Two of those wins came in the first three minutes of her fights. Perhaps the biggest win of her career was a first-round tapout of future UFC title contender Tonya Evinger in 2007.
As a member of the Strikeforce MMA promotion, Carano was at the top of the list of future title contenders. But when the promotion announced the formation of the Strikeforce Women’s Featherweight Championship, Carano was pitted against the force of nature that was Cris Cyborg for the belt.
To her credit, Carano went 4:59 before losing via TKO in the first round. That’s longer than nearly half of Cyborg’s opponent in her storied MMA career.
She was a recurring character on American Gladiators.
With Hulk Hogan and Laila Ali hosting a remake of the hit athletic competition in 2008, the show needed some professional athletes to serve as “gladiators.”
Enter Gina Carano, still in the prime of her MMA career and just starting to get into the realm of acting. Dubbed “Crush” on the show, Carano appeared in 16 of the show’s 21 episodes.
Though the show had a short run, it was one of Carano’s first big breaks in TV. Her movie career would begin soon after.
Her first main film role came in her second feature film.
After making her film debut in the direct-to-video movie Blood and Bone in 2009, Carano’s big break came in 2011.
Haywire, an action thriller directed by Steven Soderbergh, was Carano’s breakout film role. Carano was the lead and worked alongside such Hollywood stars as Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas, Channing Tatum, Antonio Banderas and Bill Paxton in a film about a black ops operative betrayed by her employers and targeted by a conspiracy.
For the role, Carano underwent six weeks of tactical training with an ex-IDF officer. She would spend three hours a day on stunts, and another three hours a day in training. That training would go on to help her in future roles.
The film wasn’t exactly a box office juggernaut but received positive acclaim for the most part.
It was enough to propel Carano into big roles in far bigger movies in the years to come.
She had supporting roles in the Fast & Furious and Deadpool franchises.
In her next film, 2013’s Fast & Furious 6, Carano worked alongside The Rock as Riley Hicks in a supporting role.
Over the next three years, Carano would appear in a few more direct-to-video films and an episode of Almost Human.
But in 2016, she returned to the big screen in arguably her biggest movie to date: The rated-R Marvel superhero film, Deadpool.
Portraying the mutant villain Angel Dust, Carano was on the receiving end of some of Wade Wilson’s most brutal jabs. But her fight with the X-Men member Colossus was one of the film’s most iconic scenes.
She was handpicked to be in The Mandalorian – but thought she’d be portraying a Wookiee.
Despite her success with Haywire, F&F 6 and Deadpool, Carano still had very few feature film and TV roles by the time development started on The Mandalorian. But showrunner Jon Favreau had a very precise vision for the character Cara Dune, and he knew who he wanted from the start.
He created the character specifically with Carano in mind and didn’t even interview other actresses for the job.
Funnily enough, when Carano first got the call that she would be in the show, she thought she’d be forced to don a hairy costume and portray a female Wookiee.
She ended up being one of the few characters who gets her face shown throughout the hit show.