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MMA:

It takes two to tangle

Las Vegas native’s desire to fight inspired top female MMA fighter to take up sport

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Bennie E Palmore II

Kevin Ross raises his arms in victory after defeating Travis Garlits by unanimous decision at XFA 2 at the Cox Pavilion, May 31, 2008.

Kevin Ross takes on Travis Garlits during XFA 2 at the Cox Pavilion, May 31, 2008. Launch slideshow »
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Mixed Martial arts fighter and former UNLV student Gina Carano speaks during a news conference May 29, 2008, in New York. Carano is scheduled to fight Cris "Cyborg" Santos for the first-ever Strikeforce 145-pound women's world title in San Jose, Calif. on Aug 15.

Fight Facts

  • What: World Championship Muay Thai fights
  • When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
  • Location: Las Vegas Hilton Theater
  • Featured bouts: WBC International Super welterweight title — Malaipet vs. Richard Fenwick; WBC International Super lightweight title — Kevin Ross vs Kang En; WBC National Super middleweight title — Jared Lara vs Vaughn Lucas; IKKC International belt — Paulo DaSilva vs Romie Adanza.

Kevin Ross wasn’t born a fighter. He didn’t take his first martial arts class until he was 22 years old.

But some six years and more than 20 fights later, the Las Vegan has an opportunity to compete for one of Muay Thai’s most eminent titles.

“I had never done any kind of training or anything, so the first time I was in a Thai boxing camp training to be a fighter I had no prior experience,” he said.

Ross, 27, will face Chinese Muay Thai star Kang En on Saturday at the Las Vegas Hilton for En’s WBC Muay Thai Super Lightweight International title.

The fight is a rematch of Ross’ controversial Jan. 19 clash against En in Beijing, which Ross lost by unanimous decision.

“I never thought that I would be here fighting for a title, especially one of the biggest ones there is,” Ross said. “I just wanted to fight. I didn’t know if I was going to have one fight or what, but at first it was just that one fight.”

Ross (8-4 as a pro) has taken that one fight and turned it into a career. He was 14-1 as an amateur.

“Being a fighter changed his life completely,” said Gina Carano, Ross’ ex-girlfriend who followed him into the sport and is now regarded as the top female MMA fighter in the world.

“In one night he just made the decision to stop everything that he was doing and start something that he always wanted to do and that inspired me to eventually sign up.”

Ross had long flirted with the idea of becoming a fighter.

“I grew up watching boxing and martial arts movies. I always wanted to fight, but I never thought too seriously about it,” he said. "Then when I was 16 I saw Muay Thai on TV and I knew that it was for me."

However, it would be six more years before Ross entered the sport.

"One night Kevin was talking to his dad and he just said, ‘something I’ve always wanted to do is get involved in martial arts,’” Carano said.

Ross’ father was skeptical.

“His dad said straight away, ‘Well, what are you waiting for? why don’t you just do it?’ And (Kevin) was like ‘Ok, I’m going to sign up tomorrow,’” Carano said.

Carano supported her boyfriend’s decision, attending training sessions with him until eventually deciding to join herself.

“I went and saw (Kevin) train and the Muay Thai master called me fat. He told me, ‘Hey, baby, you need to train; you’re too fat; you need to train.’ I was overweight at the time, and so I signed up and ever since then my life has changed and taken off,” Carano said.

The couple would turn out to be competitive sparring partners.

“When we were dating we used to beat the crap out of each other,” Carano said.

“It would be pretty funny to watch because I’d get emotional and try and knock his head off and he would have to gently put me in my place.”

Those heated sparring sessions paid off with Carano going 12-1-1 in Muay Thai and 7-0 in MMA.

However, Carano and Ross’ passion for fighting would soon be their undoing as their careers slowly separated them.

“(Fans) don’t see the sacrificing of friends and family,” Ross said. “Having to be in the gym all the time, not being able to go and hang out with your friends. Most people have no clue what it really takes to be a fighter.”

Despite no longer being together, the two remain close friends.

Now their careers have come full circle, with Ross’ title fight on Saturday and Carano’s highly anticipated match against Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos coming up just a few weeks later on Aug. 15.

“He really did start off my career and gave me meaning to my life” Carano said. “It’s weird that it happened, I don’t know if it wasn’t for him. He’s the kind of person who in one day completely just changed his life and that affected mine.”

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