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When she was 21, at the suggestion of her boyfriend at the time, Carano started her training of Muay Thai, a form of Kickboxing, under Master Toddy. "I walked into the gym and this little Thai man walked up to me and said, 'Oh baby, you fat. You Need to lose weight.' I was chubby. I really needed to get back into shape and I started training with him, the same guy that called me fat." This experience was just the thing she needed, giving her direction and discipline as she became a talented and dedicated fighter.
Being a woman with a pretty face proved to be a large obstacle for her in this field, as she was ridiculed by many, but she would take the insults and then let her fists do the talking. She developed an impressive record and became the first American woman to win a title in Thailand. 2005 saw her onscreen debut in the cult film, Ring Girls, which followed Carano and Master Toddy during her early Muay Thai career.
In June 2006, Carano's success as a fighter caught the attention of Jamie Levine of World Extreme Fighting, part of the world of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). He gave her the opportunity to fight Leiticia Pestova, who held an MMA record of 11 wins and 2 losses. This became the first sanctioned female MMA bout in Nevada. After training intensely, Carano came into the match and defeated Pestova in the 38th second of the first round. Critics complained that she wasn't that great of a fighter, and that her looks were really the only thing carrying her this far. She just used this to fuel herself for her next fight with Rosi Sexton in 2006, in which she won with six seconds left in the second round.
In February 2007, she fought Julie Kedzie in what was billed "Fight of the Night" as the first televised female fight on Showtime. After some intense fighting, Carano came out on top. After the fight, the two of them began to train together and have been good friends to this day.
Her popularity went up and she became "The Face of Women's MMA," which brought her even more attention and praise from her fans, but also more criticism from people who felt she was still floating by on her looks and ruining the sport for women.
She went on to win more fights and increase her popularity even more and she ended up starring in the show American Gladiators in 2008. She was hesitant at first about giving in to the entertainment industry and giving critics even more reason to insult her. Nonetheless, she joined the cast and expanded her fan base in a totally new and different way. That same year she also appeared as "Natasha" in the video game Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3.
In October of that same year, she caused a media frenzy during the weigh in for her fight against Kelly Kobold. Having only been in one fight in the last year, she was unsure if she'd make the necessary weight. When the day came, she came in over the weight on her first two tries. Then, after saying that she would never pose naked for any publication, she stripped off all her clothes and took to the scale for a third attempt. Photographers frantically tried to capture the once-in-a-lifetime moment, but she was protected by towels from friends and family. She ended up making weight and going on to defeat Kobold.
In 2009, she decided to give the Hollywood scene a try, starring in the film Blood and Bone along with fellow MMA athletes, Kimbo Slice and Maurice Smith. She also appeared on the cover ESPN The Magazine " The Body Issue.
In August 2009, she made history once again by becoming the first female fighter to earn $100,000 for a fight. She left the sport that same year; "I have gotten some of the most beautiful experiences that a person can possibly ask for so I'm not at all complaining. I got pushed out fast and I got to pave a beautiful way and there's a lot of great female MMA fighters out there right now and there will be more in the future and I've absolutely adored being one of those people that's helped that out." From there, she went on to meet with director, Steven Soderbergh later that year, who cast her as "Mallory Kane" in his film, Haywire (2011).
In 2012 she made deals to join the casts of Fast & Furious 6 and In Blood, which will be released in 2013.
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