Carano was born in Dallas County, Texas, the middle daughter of Glenn Carano and Dana Cason. She has two sisters. Her father played for the Dallas Cowboys as a backup quarterback from 1977–1983 and for the USFL Pittsburgh Maulers as a starter in 1984, their only year of operations.
She graduated from Trinity Christian High School in Las Vegas, Nevada where she led the girls basketball team to a state title. She also played volleyball and softball. She attended the University of Nevada, Reno for a year and then University of Nevada, Las Vegas for three, where she majored in psychology.
Mixed martial arts career
Carano started her career in the sport of Muay Thai. After achieving a Muay Thai record of 12-1-1, Carano received an offer to participate in the first-ever sanctioned female MMA bout in Nevada. She was invited to the World Pro Fighting show in Las Vegas to fight Rosi Sexton. Carano won the fight by knocking out Sexton late in the second round.
Carano faced Elaina Maxwell at Strikeforce: Triple Threat on December 8, 2006. She won the fight via unanimous decision. Carano proved critics wrong when she defeated Maxwell for the second time; the first victory coming in a Muay Thai bout. The fight was also the first female fight in Strikeforce.
She fought on the February 10, 2007, Showtime EliteXC card, defeating Julie Kedzie via unanimous decision in what was called the "Fight of the Night." The fight was the first televised female fight on Showtime.
Her scheduled bout against Jan Finney at the EliteXC/K-1 Dynamite!! USA event on June 2, 2007 was canceled due to illness. The Fight Network and other news outlets reported that she was rushed to the hospital via ambulance due to dehydration while attending a World Extreme Cagefighting event as a spectator.
Carano fought on the September 15, 2007, Showtime EliteXC card, where she defeated Tonya Evinger via rear naked choke for her first career win by submission. Carano impressed critics by holding her own on the ground before submitting Evinger late in the first round.
Carano defeated former HOOKnSHOOT Champion Kaitlin Young at EliteXC: Primetime on May 31, 2008. A day before the fight, Carano failed to make weight for her fight after weighing in at 144.5 lbs (65.5 kg). Although most MMA organizations set weight classes at 135 (bantamweight) and 145 (featherweight) pounds (61.2 and 65.8 kg, respectively), EliteXC opted to create a women's weight class at 140 pounds. Carano agreed to forfeit 12.5% of her "show" purse to Young, and the fight remained on the card.
Leading up to her fight against Kelly Kobold, there was much controversy over whether or not Gina would make weight for the fight, as she had fought only once in the past year and had failed to make weight. Gina assured critics that she would be able to make weight since she had hired a nutritionist to help with her dieting. At the weigh-in for the Kobold fight on October 3, 2008, Gina Carano weighed in at 142.75 pounds on her first attempt. After removing her sports bra, a towel-covered Carano weighed in a second time at 142.5 pounds.On her third attempt, without any clothes on, Carano weighed 141 pounds and successfully made weight.
Early on, Kobold was intent on pressing Carano in the clinch, while working for the takedown throughout the fight. Kobold managed a takedown in the second round, but the round ended before she could take meaningful advantage of it. Carano worked her opportunities by hitting Kobold at every turn whenever the fighters separated, while also opening a huge gash on the inside of her opponent's eyebrow in the first round. At the end of the third round, Carano looked to finish the fight as she unloaded a head kick that landed flush on Kobold's chin, but Kobold remained on her feet and the bout came to a close.
Carano won by unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27)and remained undefeated. After she won, she dedicated the fight to her grandfather.