Gina Carano, Kelly Kobald, and Kaitlin Young fight for mainstream acceptance

Female MMA will be in the spotlight during EliteXC on CBS this Saturday

Let's look at the tale of the tape. Kaitlin Young has a one-inch height advantage, but her opponent, Gina Carano, has at least four pounds on her. Both study Muay Thai and jiu-jitsu. They stand across from each other inside a circular cage, bouncing in their respective corners. Young is a college student from the University of Minnesota. She's well-respected, yet relatively unknown in women's mixed martial arts. Carano is "Crush" from the new version of American Gladiators and the face of female MMA.

They continue to bounce while an announcer bellows introductions to the thousands of fight fans watching live inside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, last May. Millions more watch at home on CBS television. Lights flash and close-ups of the two fighters are shown on Jumbotrons inside the center.

The fight card, dubbed "EliteXC: Primetime," is something of a historic moment for the sport: It's the first time any MMA fight has aired for free in primetime on national TV. Later, CBS will report that 6.5 million viewers tuned in to watch. And right now, all those millions of eyes are on the two women, the night's first and only female fight.

Kaitlin Young
Nick Vlcek for City Pages
Kaitlin Young
Gina Carano
Tom Casino ©2006-08 EliteXC
Gina Carano

The audience screams as the referee inside the cage calls the women to the center and gives them their final instructions: "Okay. Fighters, you both know your rules. Obey my commands at all times. Defend yourselves at all times. If I tell you to break, break clean. Do you have any questions? Do you have any questions? Touch gloves and come out fighting." Both fighters nod, tap gloves, and go back to their respective corners.

The bell rings. Young and Carano march toward each other, fists up. They circle one another. Carano tries a few front kicks, then catches one of Young's legs, sweeps the other one, and takes the fight to the mat. Carano quickly picks up Young for a power bomb, but Young somehow gets back to her feet.

Carano lands a looping right to Young's face. It stuns her for a blink, but Young fires back with several kicks. She body locks the bigger Carano to take her to the mat. Young moves into a top mount, and Carano sets her shin against Young's trachea and pulls down on Young's head. The announcers don't catch that Carano just secured a gogoplata, a jiu-jitsu chokehold used to cut off oxygen to an opponent's brain.

The fight slows as Young fights for air, using her hands to pry some space between Carano's shin and her throat. Eventually, Young uses the cage to leverage her way out of the hold, avoiding the submission. With Carano lying on her back, Young sends two sharp kicks to her thighs. They connect with a loud thwack, the equivalent of smacking a two-by-four flat against concrete.

The audience yells out, "Ohhh!"

Young lets Carano stand. They exchange a flurry of kicks and punches to end the three-minute round.

The announcers state the obvious: The girls are well on their way to stealing the show.

Round two comes quick. The bell rings and Young marches forward as the aggressor, landing knees to Carano's sides. Then she sends a kick that cracks off Carano's shin.

Carano gets pissed. She responds with her fists and lands a solid right under Young's eye. It opens up a cut. Carano follows up with repeated punches to the face, pummeling Young's head and nose.

The audience goes crazy.

Carano front-kicks Young. It sends her into the cage, then to her knees. Sensing a win, Carano moves in for a rear-naked choke, wrapping her legs around Young's body from behind and hooking her forearm against Young's throat. She gets it set but there isn't much time left in the round. Young waits out the remaining 14 seconds, refusing to tap out.

The bell rings. Carano releases her grip and Young stands up confidently, face swollen, but showing every sign that she is ready to continue. She walks to her corner and sits down on a stool. Her trainers and coaches attend to her injuries. They place an icepack to the back of her head and tamp her cut with a cold press. A ringside physician walks over to examine her. He tries to assess her mental acuity by asking, "Where are you?"

Amid all the commotion and people tapping at her face and pouring water into her mouth and the crowd behind her yelling out her name and the cameraman adjusting a lens in front of her, Young correctly answers, through her mouth guard, "We're at EliteXC, in Newark."

But somehow the answer doesn't play well with the doctors. They call it off.

It takes a moment for Young to get the news. Once she hears that the doctor declared a medical stoppage she yells, "Why!?"

Carano comes over, and, in an act of sportsmanship, kisses Young on the side of the head. That's the last shot the audience sees of Young. But in the background she can be heard still questioning the decision. "What?! Why are they stopping it?"

DR. HAPPY REYNOLDS watches the stoppage of the Young fight on TV at her home in San Francisco. The decision puzzles her. In the five years she's worked as a ringside doctor, she's never seen this happen. In the fight world, Young's cut is considered a minor one, below the eye. It won't obstruct her vision. The blood will flow down her cheek. Young's good for the final round. But for some reason, the doctor still calls it off.

Next Page »