It’s been almost five years since Gina Carano lost her spot as the best fighter in women’s MMA. The fight between Carano and Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino (then known by her married name of Santos) in 2009 was billed as the biggest in women’s MMA history, and for good reason.

Carano, having become a star fighting on network television under the EliteXC banner, was the poster child for the women’s side of the sport, but Cyborg was a completely different kind of animal than fans had ever seen fight before. The Brazilian Muay Thai specialist had been destroying every woman put in her path while fighting in Carano’s shadow in EliteXC, and she represented by far the biggest test in Carano’s young career.

If fans were expecting the bout to resemble anything competitive, they were quickly corrected when the fight started. Cyborg had little difficulty bullying Carano for the majority of the bout, and although the future movie star showed some heart by battling back to secure full mount at one point, Cyborg was just too much to handle and eventually scored a TKO stoppage towards the end of the round. With that loss, Carano buried her MMA gloves in her closet and decided to trade the lights of the cage for the bright lights of Hollywood.

Since leaving MMA, Carano has enjoyed a pretty successful run in Tinseltown. She earned a starring role in Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 action flick Haywire and a key spot in the summer blockbuster Fast & Furious 6 last year. With her success on the silver screen seemingly growing by the day, Carano appeared to be done with her MMA career, even though she had never officially decided to hang up her gloves. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, Carano started talking comeback.

With the UFC’s women’s bantamweight division reaching levels of success that few could have predicted after just over a year inside the Octagon, it’s not a complete shocker that Carano is looking to get back into the cage. Current champion Ronda Rousey is arguably the most popular active fighter in MMA at the moment, and after Rousey followed in Carano’s footsteps and dived headfirst into Hollywood over the last year, the UFC would have the unique opportunity to throw the two most iconic fighters in women’s MMA history in the cage together at the height of their film careers. It seems like a match made in heaven, and it would be, if the UFC had any justifiable reason to book the fight.

Whether UFC President Dana White wants to admit it or not, Carano should be at least a fight away from getting a shot at Rousey at this point. For starters, Carano has never had the easiest time making weight, and she’ll have to cut lower than ever before to get a shot at Rousey’s belt. While in EliteXC, Carano competed in the rarely seen 140-pound division, and her troubles on the scale were well documented in her last couple of fights for the promotion. After weighing in three pounds over the 141-pound limit against Kaitlin Young at EliteXC: Primetime in the spring of 2008, Carano had to forfeit a part of her purse to Young in order to remain on the card. Less than six months later, Carano had trouble hitting weight again, having to take multiple attempts on the scale before disrobing completely in order to hit the mark.

Missing weight in general is a huge red flag for UFC fighters, but to miss weight in a title fight is almost unforgivable. However, if the UFC granted Carano an immediate title fight and she missed weight, the promotion would have only itself to blame. The smart move is to make Carano hit her mark at least once before awarding her with such a massive opportunity, and the UFC has plenty of options for Carano if that’s the route it decides to take.

Since rumors of Carano’s comeback have started to circulate, nearly every top women’s bantamweight contender has uttered Carano’s name at least once, and it’s not hard to figure out why Carano would suddenly become the Michael Bisping of the women’s 135-pound division. Her star power guarantees the type of media attention usually reserved for a fight with Rousey, and at the very least the fight is going to end up as a co-main event on pay-per-view or the Fox network. Throw in the fact that Carano hasn’t been fighting (or even training as a professional) for nearly five years, and every fighter in the top 10 of the division is probably chomping at the bit to get a chance at pulling off the “upset.”

The obvious choice to welcome Carano back to the cage is former title challenger Miesha Tate. Following a close decision win over Liz Carmouche at UFC on Fox 11 earlier this month, Tate made it clear that she would be more than willing to be Carano’s first test inside the Octagon. Realistically, she’s the only opponent other than Rousey that can conceivably compete with Carano in terms of star power. Since entering the Octagon last year, Tate has only competed in main or co-main event bouts, and her rivalry with Rousey that culminated late last year was one of the biggest MMA stories of the past year. Although she may not have a Hollywood background, she’s by far the second most popular woman under UFC contract, and she has more than enough talent to see if Carano is still the real deal inside the cage.

Although she was once considered the queen of women’s MMA, Carano fought a few years ago against competition that has a hard time stacking up against the current crop of fighters in the UFC. The level of competition in 2014 is far and away better than it was when Carano last competed in 2009, and it’s no guarantee that Carano is even a top-10 bantamweight at this point in her career. After all, she just turned 32, and not one of Carano’s past opponents is on the UFC roster. The two biggest wins of her career came against opponents have a combined Octagon record of 0-4, and she suffered a one-sided beatdown in her last fight. Throwing Carano in the cage with Rousey before seeing if she can even compete with a top-10 fighter may end up being the equivalent of leading a lamb to slaughter.

We’d like to believe that Carano is still able to hang with the upper echelon of the sport, but the fact is that we probably know about as much about Carano heading into her potential Octagon debut as we do the prototypical UFC newcomer. Five years is a ridiculous amount of time away from the game in any sport. But with the evolution of MMA, it may as well have been a lifetime. At this rate, there’s no telling whether Carano is even a UFC-caliber fighter, and while there’s no doubt that a fight between Rousey and Carano would sell some pay-per-views, it will sell even more if the UFC can prove that Carano isn’t a complete pushover first.

Whether it’s against Tate, Cat Zingano, Sarah Kaufman or anyone else the UFC wants to throw at her, the UFC needs to make Carano earn her place in the title scene before giving her a shot at Rousey. It wasn’t too long ago that Dana White considered women’s MMA a joke. He’s obviously changed his tune, but if he gives Carano a title fight, he’ll confirm he was right all along.

About The Author

Vince Carey
Staff Writer

Vince Carey has been writing about the sport of mixed martial arts since 2010. Although he is just 21 years old, the Omaha-based writer is looking to provide readers with interesting content on all things related to MMA.