‘Young' Gun Aims at Carano


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Kaitlin Young (Pictures) sat before the television cameras to answer questions about her fight with Gina Carano (Pictures) this Saturday for EliteXC "Primetime" on CBS. The ESPN crew was working on a piece surrounding Carano, the American Gladiator, and whether she was tenured enough after just five fights to earn a spot representing mixed martial arts before what could become the biggest audience ever to watch the sport.

"What they were asking me about was what women who had been in the sport longer thought (of Gina)," Young said. "I basically said to the guy, ‘I've only had five fights, too. You're barking up the wrong tree.'"

ESPN's "E:60" segment on Carano ended up featuring comments from Tara LaRosa and Shayna Baszler (Pictures), veteran fighters, who were somewhat critical about the darling of female MMA. But Carano's opponent was nowhere to be found.

"They were trying hard to get me to trash talk," Young said. "They'd ask me a question and they'd be like, ‘So you're saying Gina doesn't deserve it?' And I'm like, ‘No, I'm not saying that.' I mean, they were trying hard."

The problem is, if Carano doesn't deserve the shot on CBS, than Young, 22, probably doesn't either. For Young to begrudge Carano for her notoriety could be seen as hypocritical, because a buzz has also developed around Young very early in her career. The root of that buzz is not from fights on Showtime or fits of smashing competitors with jousting sticks on NBC. Anyone who was in the Evansville Coliseum in Evansville, Indiana on Nov. 24 of last year knows why people are excited about Kaitlin Young (Pictures).

That night, Young knocked out three consecutive opponents to win a one-night female grand prix tournament that featured fighters ranging from 125 to 135 pounds. Suzi Smith went down cold in 22 seconds after a knee to the head. Miesha Tate was taken out in 30 seconds with a head kick. Patti Lee was finished in 53 seconds after a knee to the body.

"It's rare to get a guy who can make that much of an impression in one night, and the women, they don't get the opportunity to compete as much as men," said Jeff Osborne (Pictures), promoter of Hook N Shoot, the long-standing MMA promotion that put on the women's tournament. "Kaitlin took full advantage of that and made herself a star."

Greg Nelson, one of Young's trainers at Minnesota Martial Arts Academy, said he knew Young would have a striking advantage over most of the women in the tournament. But he didn't expect Young to steal the show the way she did.

"She just walked through all of them like it was pretty easy," Nelson said. "That was a little bit more surprising."

Young was also a bit surprised. The bouts were only the second, third and fourth of her MMA career, and she had only won once by knockout in the more than 100 tae kwon do bouts she competed in throughout high school.

"The only real good knockout I had was I back-kicked a girl in her face once and split her mouthguard in half and put her teeth through her lip," Young said. "But my back kick was horrible. It just kind of landed as a freak thing, because it totally sucked. I don't even know how it happened. It will probably never happen again."

Young's next crazy knockout might not happen on the tae kwon do circuit, but matchmakers seem to hope she'll try for it on CBS this weekend. Almost all of the fights on the EliteXC card seem designed to be slugfests, and Young and Carano's backgrounds in kickboxing indicate that they may produce some of the bigger standup fireworks of the night.

Even in losing, Young brings fireworks. She tasted defeat for the first time in February against Sara Schneider (Pictures) via a second round armbar in Las Vegas under the BodogFight banner. Taking stock of the loss, Young said she got overzealous after dropping Schneider with a jab and erred in not passing guard before trying to power out of the submission. Jeff Osborne (Pictures), who has a long history with female fighters both through promoting them and running the Web site GFight.tv, did not see Young leave the ring that night a loser.

"Even her loss in Vegas was one of the best fights I've ever seen, it clearly stole the show," Osborne said. "Joe Rogan and Eddie Bravo, they hate women's fighting, and when they were leaving they were like, ‘Man, I wasn't a fan of women's fighting, but I am now.'"

Young was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, and was raised in a city called Circle Pines. She has been fighting on her feet since her mother steered her toward tae kwon do to get away from "rough friends" and partying at an early age. Young wanted to try football after a middle school coached expressed interest in recruiting her.

"My mother wouldn't let me do it," Young said. "She thought I was going to get hurt. So I just did tae kwon do. It kind of backfired on her, huh?"

Young said she's had fewer injuries in her MMA training than she did in tae kwon do, where knee collisions as well as hamstring and ankle injuries were commonplace. She excelled in state competition, but faltered at the national level. Muay Thai caught her eye when she was 19, and last year she started training MMA.

At Minnesota Martial Arts, Young works everyday with wrestling powerhouses like Sean Sherk (Pictures) and Brock Lesnar (Pictures), and has focused on lifting weights and developing her upper-body strength so she can be stronger in the clinch and with her hands.

"Sometimes you have your male fighters who are easy to coach because they've grown up wrestling or doing whatever," Nelson said. "They just have more of that wrestling background. You don't find a lot of the girls with that same kind of work ethic. But Kaitlin's one of the girls that has kind of that same mentality. She can be right in the mix with all the guys."

Young has kept up diligent training as she's transitioned from high school into the University of Minnesota, where she's studying kinesiology. Under a state program, Young was able to start college in her senior year of high school. It was par for the course. Her nationwide tae kwon do exploits had already set her on a different path than her contemporaries.

"I had a different high school experience," Young said. "Obviously I was always training or out-of-town for tournaments. So I didn't go to prom, I didn't go to my own graduation actually. I really was kind of absent, doing my own thing."

She's on a different track even in her collegiate years. She plans to drop to a part-time course load next semester to devote more time to her MMA training. But that wasn't before the marketers behind Saturday night's fights seized upon the fact that she's still in college.

"CBS made me a nickname, or Elite, somebody did. I'm ‘The College Co-Ed,'" Young said. "I did not pick that. I heard it on a commercial for myself. I'm totally being made fun of at the gym for it, by the way. What, are they looking for - ‘Girls Gone Wild?' Is that what they're trying to promote? I don't know."

Girls will go wild this Saturday. And if someone ends up unconscious, it won't be because she had one too many appletinis. Whatever mainstream America expects out of two women fighting in a cage, Young said getting those eyeballs on her and her peers is the true battle.

"I've always said with women's MMA, I think it's a matter of exposure," Young said. "I don't think people necessarily dislike it. I think a lot of people haven't seen it. I feel like with Gina being on ‘Gladiators' and doing all this stuff, it might be hard for her and it might hard for her training schedule and it might take away from her MMA. But what it is doing for the sport as a whole, I mean, think about how many more people are going to tune into this fight because Gina ‘Crush' Carano from ‘Gladiators' is fighting. How many more fans are there going to be? How many people are going to be cruising the Internet the next day for more women's fights just because of her? That's the way I look at it."

A point likely to be harped on Saturday is that Carano is the son of former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Glenn Carano, who has been front-row to animatedly cheer on his daughter at past fights. Young can only imagine what her father, who died of a sudden heart attack when she was 16, would have been like at her fights. He probably would have stolen her spotlight.

"He was all about the fighting, he thought it was the coolest thing," she said. "My dad was different character. He just definitely was not the kind father who was overprotective of his daughter. Probably the other way around. He was just like, ‘You'll be fine.' He probably would have done something to embarrass me because he would think it was funny. He'd probably show up with some goofy ass hat. That's probably what he would have done, something to embarrass me horribly on national television."

Someone's going to have to embarrass her, because if her track record is any indication, Kaitlin Young (Pictures) won't be embarrassing herself on Saturday night.

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