Gina Carano stars in new arena

They say when one door closes another one opens.

Mixed martial arts fighter and actress Gina Carano has experienced this firsthand. She was coming off her first loss in the octagon in August 2009 when she got an unexpected call.

"My agent called and said that I need to meet with this director," said Carano, who had no interest in talking to anyone after losing by TKO to Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos. "Then he said, 'No, it's Steven Soderbergh.' I didn't know who that was. Then, he started listing off the movies he'd done and said I better take the meeting."

Carano reminded her agent she had a black eye, a remnant of the beating she took. The bumps and bruises sustained in the fight may have made Carano even more authentic to Soderbergh, who cast her as Mallory Kane, a freelance secret agent in his latest move "Haywire," which opens Friday.

Terry Goodlad/

Gina Carano said her MMA career prepared her for her stint on the silver screen. She performed nearly all of her own stunts in the movie.

"For me to get this opportunity, someone had to come and find me," Carano said. "I was lucky it was Steven Soderbergh. People keep telling me it doesn't usually go like this.

"I know I am incredibly blessed."

Carano's blessings include a cast filled with big names. Her love interest in the film is Ewan McGregor. Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas, Channing Tatum and Michael Fassbender are also among her co-stars.

"They did a hell of a job surrounding me with the most beautiful people," Carano said. "There were a lot of surreal moments throughout the movie, being on set. There were long hours and getting up at crazy times. But it was a pleasure waking up and doing something I really enjoyed."

Carano's MMA skills translated well to "Haywire," where she has more than a few fighting scenes. She does all of her own stunts in the movie, save a nearly 100-foot drop off the side of a building.

"You get the same adrenaline rush [doing stunts and fighting] as in MMA, without hurting anyone and without hurting myself." she said. "The bruises I walked away with were more like love taps."

So, with that in mind, what does the future hold for Carano? Although her Wikipedia entry calls her "a retired MMA fighter," Carano points out that she never made that official.

"As far as fighting, I don't know what will happen," she said. "I am just living my life right now and seeing where it lands after [the movie opens] Jan. 20. Right now, I am staying extremely open-minded and trying to give back to the film that has given so much to me."

But Carano admits she does think about her bout with Santos, who recently tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs and will serve a one-year ban from MMA.

"That fight with her was definitely the biggest moment of my MMA career and, at that time, I had people around me telling me she was on steroids," Carano said. "I could have gone the rest of my life without hearing [she tested positive]."

Why? Because the positive test only makes her wonder, what if?

Carano said a big part of MMA is mental. If Santos was taking performance-enhancing drugs when they fought, Santos may have believed she had an edge.

"I think it would have been nice to have an even playing field," Carano said. "Taking nothing away from her; she has amazing physicality. And there is a chance she wasn't using anything when we fought. But as they say, there is a reason for everything. [Losing the fight] led to a beautiful opportunity with this movie."

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