Gina Carano: 6 Things To Know About The Fantastic MMA Fighter-Turned-Actress

Gina Carano as Cara Dune in The Mandalorian

If any star of The Mandalorian deserves their own spin-off, it is Gina Carano. Playing a badass mercenary on the Star Wars-inspired Disney+ series does not take much acting for her, given how she first made a name for herself as one of the fiercest athletes in MMA.

Since retiring from competitive fighting, the 37-year-old has found success in film and television, landing roles in the Fast and Furious franchise, Deadpool, and even a few straight-to-video action movies. The actress may have reached her apex mountain by starring in The Mandalorian, but I predict there is still much more we shall see from Gina Carano, just like there is much more to learn about her meteoric rise from the MMA to bonafide action star.

Gina Carano in martial arts film Blood and Bone

Gina Carano Had A Nearly Undefeated Fighting Career

After training in Muay Thai, Gina Carano’s career in Mixed Martial Arts took off in 2006: a time when women in the sport was scarce. It was not even until 2012 when the UFC officially began accepting female fighters and Ronda Rousey made headlines as the organization’s first signed athlete. Yet, Carano’s emergence on the MMA scene is often credited as the beginning of that revolutionary moment when women in competitive fighting were beginning to be taken more seriously.

The 5’8”, 143-lb Gina Carano became one of the most talked about stars in MMA from 2006-2009, leading an undefeated record while competing in organizations Strikeforce and Elite XC. However, her eighth and final fight would also be her first and only loss, after suffering a TKO from her opponent, Brazilian-American fighter Cristiane “Cris Cyborg” Justino. Not long after Carano’s retirement, she would find a new job that would also allow her to utilize her combative skills, but more on that later.

Glenn Carano, father of Gina Carano, plays in the USFL with the Pittsburgh Maulers

(Image credit: USFL)

Athleticism Runs In Gina Carano’s Family

It was actually then-boyfriend Kevin Ross, a Muay Thai kickboxing star, who inspired Gina Carano to take up the sport at age 21. However, the former MMA fighter is not the only athlete in the family.

Gina Carano was born the second of three sisters in Dallas, Texas, on April 16, 1982, to mother Dana and father Glenn. For seven years, Glenn Carano was a professional football player, first as back-up quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys for six seasons before transitioning to the Pittsburgh Maulers on the United States Football League in 1984.

Gina Carano in Ring Girls

Gina Carano Played Herself In Her First Starring Role

Most people probably assume a certain 2011 action film that I will touch on later to be Gina Carano’s screen debut, and that would be true if we were only counting acting in theatrical releases. The athlete was a recurring competitor on NBC’s American Gladiators under the nickname Crush, and appeared on the reality show Fight Girls around the same time her competitive career took off, but before going pro, Carano made her true acting debut as a Muay Thai fighter named Gina Carano.

The real stretch of a role was in 2005’s Ring Girls, which is essentially a collection of documentary footage spliced together with dramatized scenes that follow Muay Thai instructor Master Toddy’s training of five aspiring female fighters, including Gina Carano, that has apparently reached cult status. Carano’s first foray into playing a fictional character came in 2009 with the straight-to-video martial arts film, Blood and Bone, which also starred several stars of MMA including Kimbo Slice and Bob Sapp opposite star Michael Jai White. It seemed that the former athlete’s acting career was destined to follow a trend, until she received an opportunity from an Academy Award-winning filmmaker.

Gina Carano as Mallory Kane in Haywire

Steven Soderbergh Made Gina Carano A Movie Star

Steven Soderbergh rose to prominence as a indie film darling with dramas like Sex, Lies, and Videotape and Traffic before pioneering the modern heist comedy with his successful remake of Ocean’s Eleven in 2001. As you can see, he is rarely one to repeat himself (excluding the Ocean’s sequels) and reflected that knack with his fast-paced 2011 espionage thriller Haywire, which would have been an entirely different film had its star, Gina Carano, not caught his eye.

Originally intended for a man, Steven Soderbergh worked with screenwriter Lem Dobbs to rewrite the central protagonist of Haywire, a former black ops soldier seeking revenge on the agency that double crossed her, as a woman with Gina Carano specifically in mind. The thriller, also starring Ewan McGregor and Channing Tatum in supporting roles to name a few, was well-received by critics, earned Carano the first Chuck Norris Award for Best Female Action Star at ActionFest in 2012, and effectively paved the way for the former athlete’s steady acting career. I should mention, however, that fans of The Mandalorian who may want to watch Haywire after seeing her as Cara Dune might notice something a little off about her performance.

Gina Carano in Haywire

That Is Not Actually Gina Carano’s Voice in ‘Haywire’

Upon the release of Haywire, it became a somewhat controversial point of conversation of whether or not star Gina Carano was using her actual voice in the role. While the actress’ real voice is relatively deep, her character, Mallory Kane, bears a noticeably softer and lighter tone. As Carano revealed in an interview on the MMA-centered podcast No Holds Barred, director Steven Soderbergh did use sound alterations to change her voice, before then explaining why...

Steven Soderbergh wanted Mallory Kane to be a completely different entity than Gina Carano… so he did some tweaking. I’m just honored to be a part of it. There was a little joke that I was saying that even if [Soderbergh] would have shaved my head and put Bill Clinton as my voice, I would have still done it.

While it may be jarring to fans familiar with Gina Carano’s voice to hear her sound almost entirely different, the alterations, fortunately have no bearing on the spy thriller’s entertainment value. No changes to her voice have been made in films starring the actress since. Yet, she was under the impression that she would have to adopt, not only a new voice, but new language for her most popular project to date...

Gina Carano and Pedro Pascal in The Mandalorian

Gina Carano Originally Thought She Was Cast As A Wookiee In The Mandalorian

Gina Carano stole the show in The Mandalorian as former Rebel shock trooper Carasynthia “Cara” Dune, a trusted ally of Pedro Pascal’s titular bounty hunter, which creator Jon Favreau wrote specifically with her in mind. However, when she first got the call, she initially assumed her role would be quite different. As Gina Carano told Vanity Fair,

I thought I was going to be, like, the female Chewbacca. I was ready to put on the fur outfit and be the female version of that. That’s what I thought. I was surprised to find that I was one of the few people that you were actually going to see her face… which is pretty incredible.

The character herself is pretty incredible, as well, with her closest taste of defeat being Baby Yoda’s force chokehold while a fierce adversary in hand-to-hand combat. Fans are hoping to see Gina Carano’s to-be-determined return to the world of The Mandalorian as Cara Dune when Season 2 drops on Disney+ this October.

Gina Carano reached stardom as one of the most badass women in the world. Now she is known for playing badasses in movies and television. Her career is a testament to the belief that success comes from being yourself.

Jason Wiese
Content Writer

Jason Wiese writes feature stories for CinemaBlend. His occupation results from years dreaming of a filmmaking career, settling on a "professional film fan" career, studying journalism at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, MO (where he served as Culture Editor for its student-run print and online publications), and a brief stint of reviewing movies for fun. He would later continue that side-hustle of film criticism on TikTok (@wiesewisdom), where he posts videos on a semi-weekly basis. Look for his name in almost any article about Batman.