The first time I saw the trailer for Steven Soderberg’s new movie Haywire, I thought, “Who is that actress, and how did she learn all of those kickass moves?” From what I could tell during the frenzied two-and-a-half-minute preview, this wasn’t just your run-of-the-mill, stick-a-Hollywood-starlet-in-a-lycra-body-suit-and-teach-her-how-to-punch action movie. No, this girl was pulling some serious Jean-Claude Van Damme moves. Well, there’s a reason for that. Haywire stars Gina Carano, and she used to be a mixed martial arts champion.
Unless you follow women’s mixed martial arts fighting (and who doesn’t!), you can be forgiven for not knowing who Gina Carano is. So here’s a quick run down of where she’s from, what she’s done, and just how quickly she can beat you up.
- Gina Carano is from Dallas, Texas. She’s 29 years old and studied psychology at University of Nevada Los Vegas. When she was 21, Carano took up Muay Tai, a Thai competitive fighting sport similar to kickboxing, as a way to lose some weight. “I really didn’t know I was going to be into it,” Carano told MMANews.com in 2007, “I just went to get in shape.” At the time, she weighed 175 lbs.; as a competitive fighter, Carano hovered around 140-145 lbs.
- She fought in mixed martial arts tournaments from 2006-2009, many of which were broadcast on CBS and Showtime. Carano was undefeated until August 2009, when she lost the 145.-lb division of the inaugural Strikeforce Women’s Championship to her opponent Cristiane Santos. You can watch the entire fight on YouTub. It doesn’t last very long; Carano bit it in the very first round.
- She hasn’t fought since her loss to Santos and has no immediate plans to return to the ring, but says she “hasn’t officially retired yet.” In interviews, she’s admitted to being depressed after the high-profile defeat, but actually, the hiatus may also be because of her work on Haywire; director Steven Soderbergh first contacted his future leading lady one week after the bout. When the two met for lunch, she still had a black eye.
- If you want to see some of Carano’s earlier work, watch the 2005 independent film Ring Girls, in which she stars.
- In 2008, Carano appeared on American Gladiators, on which she competed under the name Crush. You can also watch clips of this on YouTube, such as this one, in which she wrestles another female gladiator on a suspended stage, or this one, in which she tries to climb a giant foam pyramid.
- Although she has an extensive background in fighting, Carano did spend sometime preparing for the role of betrayed CIA agent Mallory Kane in Haywire. According to the LA Times, she underwent a “six-week intensive tactical training course” to prepare for the film. She also had to learn the difference between actual fighting and stunt fighting. For example, in stunt fighting, an actress needs to keep her face exposed so the cameras can see her. In a real fight, that’s probably not a good idea.
Haywire comes out on Jan. 20. You can read TIME’s review of the film here.