"The thing that impresses me the most about Kaitlin is her work ethic. You quickly forget she is a girl because when she spars or lifts with us, she is able to keep pace with the other fighters. And those other fighters she is keeping pace with are guys like myself and Sherk. I don't think most male fighters could keep up with us much less most female fighters. It takes a special kind of will and determination." -- Nick Thompson, training partner and Bodog Fight Welterweight Champion
Although this Saturday's groundbreaking event features a fight between two female fighters, one of them has received virtually all of the media's gushing attention; the other, hardly any at all. Odds makers have written this off as yet another opportunity for the celebrated beauty and star that is Gina Carano to notch another inevitable win onto her belt. And yet, quietly, her opponent, a 22-year old Minnesotan named Kaitlin Young, is singularly preparing herself for nothing but this fight. Nothing else, not right now.
There is a complete contrast between Carano and Young few have noticed: the media darling in Carano is a fighter with dreams far beyond MMA, but the upstart Young wants nothing more than a life in MMA. And while many believe this is a set up fight to launch Carano into mainstream stardom, Young, unconcerned with fame or the media's expectations, is preparing herself for the toughest fight of her career. To Young, the fame and notoriety Carano courts is nothing more than a hindrance in her quest to be the best fighter opportunity will allow. Young is all business and as her male teammates attest, she is all work because to her, work is play.
In this interview with BloodyElbow.com, Young talks about her preparation for this bout, it's significance for women's MMA, the phenomenon that is Kimbo Slice, and what her career goals are headed into this landmark fight.
Luke Thomas: Before we get into your fight this Saturday, let’s talk about women’s MMA. Do you believe that irrespective of outcome that this will be a watershed moment for women’s MMA or are there still hurdles to climb?
Kaitlin Young: I think this will be a big difference maker. I definitely think there a hurdles to climb. They’re making us fight three minute rounds, which I’m sure you know most female fighters are not in favor of that. And other organizations do that, too, but having a women’s fight on what is quite possibly the biggest card in MMA, it’s a really big deal. Aside from the shorter rounds, what EliteXC is doing with putting a women’s fight on the main card makes it a big deal. It’s really nice.
Luke Thomas: Some people have suggested that having women on the main card – and granted, they’ve already done so on Showtime – presents a problem. Let’s say Gina Carano gets her face split wide open and there’s lots of blood. Critics say there’s going to be a negative outcry. Is that a double standard or a concern you have?
Kaitlin Young: Yeah, I could see that happening and it would be unfortunate. And as much as I’d like to say there’s a double standard, I think the general public sometimes does take females being injured differently than [injuries] happening to males. That being said, a really bloody fight between two guys on the card could potentially cause some outcry. It generally seems like that type of thing is getting better though, so maybe people are getting over it.
Luke Thomas: What do you mean?
Kaitlin Young: Well, it just seems like you don’t see as much about how [mixed martial arts] is this brutal blood sport. I think a lot of that has to do with more coverage of the training of the athletes. I think there’s less of a conception that, "Oh, these are just street brawlers that are getting in a cage." People are starting to understand this is an actual athletic endeavor not just unsanctioned street fights.
Luke Thomas: But in all fairness, the person who gets the lion’s share of attention is Gina Carano and there’s not much footage of her training. There’s a lot of footage of her shadowboxing or doing pad work, but there’s not a lot of the day in, day out rigorous dieting or weight cutting; all of the extensive coverage you see with men. Am I wrong in that or is there a disparity in coverage?
Kaitlin Young: No, I think you’re right, but I think, too, though, that has a lot do with up until recently there hasn’t been a lot of coverage of women’s fights. And part of that may be that the UFC, for example, has those "All Access" shows where a lot of people see that. Same with "The Ultimate Fighter". It shows more than just what’s going in the gym when they train; they don’t drink, they don’t go out at all, they eat right and there really hasn’t been a show dedicated to showcasing the outside life of any female fighters yet. Or any female fighters haven’t been included in that yet. But yeah, that hasn’t been showcased yet, so maybe people don’t see it the same.Luke Thomas: Have you talked to other female fighters about this fight? If so, what have they been saying?
Kaitlin Young: I’ve talked to some other female fighters and they’ve been fine with it. But I think, a little bit, they do feel like it should maybe be somebody else. I’m probably not the person they would tell that to [laughs]. They’re not going to be like, "You don’t deserve that."
I don’t think its jealousy, but I think me and Gina will do a great job and we’re a really good match-up. Also, this is going to be both of our sixth fights, so I would understand why someone with twenty fights might say that they were in line for [the fight on CBS] first.
Luke Thomas: Let’s compare two people. Let’s compare Gina and Georges St. Pierre or even Roger Huerta. In the case of a
Kaitlin Young: I think it is the case and I think that is going to continue to be the trend as long as long as the MMA audience is 80% men under 40 [laughs]. That might even out a little more as more women become MMA fans and not necessarily less emphasis will be placed on the female fighters, but more emphasis will be placed on the males. It’s like with any other sport, really, or any other form of entertainment. It’s kind of the way society goes for things, I guess. They tend to want to watch the better looking fighter, the better looking race car driver, whatever.
Luke Thomas: Let me thrown in different question just for the moment. You’re fighting on the same card as Kimbo Slice. What is your opinion about the Kimbo Slice phenomenon?
Kaitlin Young: I don’t know. I don’t know what I think about it. To be honest, I haven’t watched that much of his stuff. I’ve watched one of his Internet videos.
Luke Thomas: Are you conflicted?
Kaitlin Young: Well, a little bit because part of me feels like “Yeah, he’s making a lot of bank” for his third MMA fight. But you have guys that crossed over from other stuff like you look at Brock Lesnar, a cross over from professional wrestling, so a lot of people don’t give credit to professional wrestling. He was an amazing collegiate wrestler.And then you have guys who are really good strikers that cross over and get a lot of attention. It’s still experience, I suppose, whether it’s street fighting or MMA, but I think it’s definitely a different story when you’re going in with somebody who has trained versus somebody who has done a lot of street fighting.
You know, I’m kind of conflicted about it. I haven’t really seen enough of him to form an opinion.
Luke Thomas: Would you say part of that bias is unfair? It’s been well documented that everyone who’ve trained with him have said he’s an extraordinarily hard worker, he’s obviously…
Kaitlin Young: Well, then, more power to him. If he’s really going to convert over to MMA and make it his job and he’s putting butts in seats then he deserves what he’s making.
Luke Thomas: Let’s move onto your fight with Gina Carano. It’s been documented that she’s only going to be training for this fight about a month. A) Are you aware of that and b) does she have misplaced priorities?
Kaitlin Young: I can give you my guess. Yes, I had heard that and for my training I’m going with the mindset that she’s just saying that and she’s been training all along, just for my own well preparedness. But I don’t think she’s necessarily taking me lightly. I think she was probably put in a really bad position and had to make a choice.
And I believe she has said this in an interview and this would not surprise me at all: her doing the second season of “American Gladiators” was contingent on her taking this fight.
Luke Thomas: Really?
Kaitlin Young: I think that’s what she said. I don’t want to misquote her, but she was signed with EliteXC before she was signed with [NBC], you know what I mean? I don’t know that she was just like “Yeah, whatever”. I don’t think she was flippant about it. I think she was put in a position to have to make a tough choice.Luke Thomas: Let’s talk about your training. I’ve seen the videos of the “caveman training” and I know you train with
Kaitlin Young: Yeah, it is for a couple of reasons. I always spend a lot of time in the gym when I’m getting ready for a fight and this is the longest I’ve had to prepare because honestly, the second I started hearing rumors that [EliteXC] might ask me to fight on this card I started training.
Luke Thomas: How long ago was that?
Kaitlin Young: That’ll be probably 9 or 10 weeks prior to the fight.
I also incorporated more lifting because the fight’s at 140lbs instead of 135lbs. I know Gina’s tough, so I wanted to make sure I wasn’t an undersized 140lber. And that went super well. I’ve also continued to work on striking and the clinch, but also work on my wrestling and jiu-jitsu a lot. And then on conditioning for this fight has been more intense than I’ve ever had it, for sure.
Luke Thomas: Gina has had problems making weight including most recently in a weight class that was created for her. She’s also accustomed to fighting smaller opponents. The fight with Rosi Sexton, in my view, is almost hard to watch. Do you feel, at least on paper, you’re the smaller fighter having to work her way up? Insofar as natural weight class is concerned, do you feel this is at all favorable match making for Gina?
Kaitlin Young: I don’t think so. There’s a misconception that I’m a natural 135lber, which is not the case. When I was fighting at 135lbs I was cutting from 145lbs, so obviously I’m cutting from higher than that to make 140lbs now. I’m 5’9”, I’m not a small girl by any means [laughs]. I really just try to make the most of whatever weight I’m fighting at. The trend at our gym, you know, [Nick] Thompson cuts a lot, Sean [Sherk] cuts a lot. I don’t cut as much as them, but taking a cue from them I try to get as big and as strong as possible. I prefer to be as strong as I can be in the fight. Although I think there may be a misconception among fans and even the match making – they might think I’m smaller than I am – I don’t think there’s going to be the size difference people think there is.
Luke Thomas: Talk about the style match up here. We have two women who are strong, athletic, very explosive and like to trade. Give me your impressions of how you match up with Gina.
Kaitlin Young: Well, it’ll be really interesting because I’m not entirely sure how we match up on the ground because there’s not much footage of her ground game, so it’s hard for me to say where it is [to mine] in comparison. If it goes to the ground, it’ll be really interesting. I’ve been working on it a lot, so who knows? Standing, though, I think it’ll be a really, really exciting fight for the fans.
Luke Thomas: Fighters don’t like to be too technical in interviews so they don’t give away their game plan. But just for the moment I’d like you to imagine everyone who will read this trains. Technically speaking, what is just one thing she does wrong that you’ve seen in tapes? It doesn’t have to be big, just something small.
Kaitlin Young: Something small…she over commits on that heavy right hand she throws. That and she for having a Thai boxing background she doesn’t seem like she’s feels super comfortable in the clinch.
Luke Thomas: Let’s talk more about your training. Nick Thompson emphasized that the technical training at
Kaitlin Young: Yeah, definitely. It’s really nice to be able to look over and see your teammates still going and say, “Yeah, I can do it, too”. Maybe it’s healthy competition and a little bit of inspiration you derive from your teammates.
Luke Thomas: But is there more to the story? Is it a way for you to say there’s no short cuts, no slacking, you have to earn this thing?
Kaitlin Young: Exactly. It’s one of those things where you’re having an off day or you’re a little bit tired or if you think you’re giving it enough. Then you look over and one of these guys is an absolute beast like Sean or Nick or whoever at the gym is going a little bit faster than you, so you’re like, “Ok, I gotta go faster”. Does that answer the question?
Luke Thomas: Sort of. For some of the female athletes – and there’s a crossover for women in the military – there was a pride issue involved. They were, in the eyes of skeptical male counterparts, expected to be given a different standard. And over time, over and over and over again, they refused any kind of shortcuts. I’m wondering if that’s something you consciously think about. Does that drive and impact your training?
Kaitlin Young: Yeah, I think so. When you start training, and I think this happens a lot with female athletes, sometimes the coaches will make excuses for you, you know, you don’t even have to do it for yourself. Like, “Oh, well you shouldn’t be able to catch him in that because he’s bigger than you,” or whatever. At our gym, that never happens. It doesn’t matter why you didn’t get it, there is no excuse. But I wouldn’t actually say there’s an extra pride thing involved; that’s just how it is.
Luke Thomas: To you, that just seems the best way to do it. Is that what you’re saying?
Kaitlin Young: I’m just another fighter and that’s it, I guess [laughs]. It’s funny because a lot of girls are in MMA and you’ll hear them be like “Oh, I train with the guys”. But it’s like, “We all do”. If you’re training MMA chances are you’re one of the few if not the only woman at your gym. What matters is whether you train like them that makes a difference.
Luke Thomas: Are you at all worried about the nerves? So much talk is made of the “UFC jitters” and this event could be even bigger than the UFC’s. You train with guys who are accustomed to the big show. What are they telling you?
Kaitlin Young: Nothing, really. Just, “Go out there and do your thing”. I don’t feel really nervous about it. I’ve said before, I feel like I’m probably my harshest critic and I see every one of my fights whether they are on television or not. So, if I perform well, great, if not there’s nothing anyone will be saying that I’m not thinking. I don’t feel overly nervous about it.
Luke Thomas: This is the first time women’s MMA is going to be on network television with up to 10 million sets of eyeballs watching and you’re preparing for a cage fight with another woman. You’re not nervous?
Kaitlin Young: No, not really. I want to do well, so I’m really focused on that, but to me, I don’t feel that it’s that different than any other fight in the way I focus or the way I feel about it.
Luke Thomas: As a matter of record, what is your current contract status with EliteXC?
Kaitlin Young: This is my first fight of a three fight deal.
Luke Thomas: Win or lose, is there any one else you’d like to see added to the EliteXC roster that you’d like to fight?
Kaitlin Young: You know, there are a lot of girls. Obviously, they are talking about a title after this fight. Shayna Baszler’s obviously in line for it and I wouldn’t ever feel right about having a title if I didn’t have to fight Tara LaRosa at some point. But it’s really hard to say because now they’re talking about putting in this 130lbs division, which with a few months of dieting I think I could make. So I’m not sure I’d necessarily stay at 140lbs after this fight. It really depends on who is where.
Luke Thomas: So it’s all up in the air?
Kaitlin Young: We’ll see how this goes and whatnot. I’d really like to see EliteXC sign
Luke Thomas: Before you go, I do want to talk about your ground game a little bit. I read the reports about your last fight (a second round submission to loss to Sara Schneider) and they indicated you won the first round and were winning the second until you were caught in the arm bar. Talk about where your game is at now and what you’ve done since then to develop better fundamentals.
Kaitlin Young: I really just spent a lot more time drilling than just rolling, too. I did a few grappling tournaments and entered as many divisions as I could. Win or lose, whatever, I’m just going for the experience.
Luke Thomas: Specifically, though, tell me what you did.
Kaitlin Young: Well, I worked on guard and holding base in guard. In that fight [with Schneider], I tried to hit her a lot inside her guard. And if you were reading the play-by-play, I got caught several times in an arm bar and was able to escape. It was the last one that caught me. I probably got to the position seven times. So, I obviously worked on that arm bar defense. That was a no-brainer, something I had to work on, clearly. And, yeah, passing guard, getting in a better position once it goes to the ground, all of it. I’m still building quite a bit because I’m relatively new to MMA.
Luke Thomas: And how old are you?
Kaitlin Young: 22.
Luke Thomas: How long have you been training MMA?
Kaitlin Young: MMA specifically, about a year. But I did Muay Thai two years before that and competed at a pretty high level at Olympic-style Tae Kwon Do for about five years.Luke Thomas: And you didn’t start ground work until you started training MMA?
Kaitlin Young: Right, yep.
Luke Thomas: So, lastly, talk to me about Sunday morning. It’s June 1st. Tell me what you want out of this experience. Obviously you want the win on your record, but is there anything else?
Kaitlin Young: You know, other than the fight experience, not really. The exposure is going to be great and I think it’ll give me opportunities. But as far as the fame or notoriety part or being on television, that doesn’t really do it for me. I’m just happy to be on a show big enough that affords me the ability to just train, basically, and go to school or do what I love to do every day. There’s quite a few people going out there with me, so I’ll have a big breakfast and a great time. Oh, and I’ll be recovering from partying the night before [laughs].