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Editorial: Bubbly, Sweet, and She Can Whip Your Butt

For decades, soft drink companies have helped provide refreshment and deliver our favorite stimulant, caffeine, with their bubbly, sweet products. Now, one soda’s marketing wizards have entered the business of thrusting an MMA superstar into America’s living rooms, and their choice was as dead on as a push-button knockout.

Pepsi pulled the trick on Super Bowl Sunday, when female star Gina Carano was featured in a commercial to spearhead the company’s newest advertising campaign, “Refresh Anthem.”

Halfway through the minute-long spot, Carano appears on a split screen, throwing a flurry of strikes at the camera alongside Kung-Fu and martial arts icon Bruce Lee. “Every generation refreshes the world” is the ad’s tagline.

Bubbly, sweet, and she can whip your butt.

Ready or not, folks, Carano might be on the launching pad to uncharted territory. Yes, in a few years, she could well be considered the most popular female athlete in the world.

The mantle is presently pretty bare, given that, through the years, our top female stars have either lacked in ability or attractiveness (that’s not sexist; that’s realist), or competed in sports that don’t appeal to the masses.

Thanks to MMA’s recent upsurge and her unblemished-yet-brief history in the sport, Carano defies each of those categories.

Seven-and-0 as a professional, Carano hasn’t fought since Oct. 14 (a unanimous decision over Kelly Kobold) and she’s reportedly in negotiations with Strikeforce, which purchased the rights to fighter contracts that were previously owned by the defunct EliteXC. Despite her idle status, though, Carano’s selection by Pepsi keeps the brunette brawler at the center of the sport and the peak of curiosity.

At the same time, it puts a pretty face on a brutal game that can only benefit from the exposure of a national advertisement.

With her “American Gladiator” fame and Maxim looks, Carano clearly could make a decent living outside of fighting. Lucky for us, however, her Strikeforce negotiations show that she’s committed to MMA for a while — unlike her closest male counterpart, Roger Huerta. (Man, think of what it would be like if Carano and Huerta got together. They’d be the “Brangelina” of MMA. We could call them “Rogina.”)

Do you think a better Pepsi pick would have been one of the sport’s pound-for-pound studs, like Fedor or Silva or GSP or Chuck or Randy?

Think again.

Of those guys, the first three don’t speak English (well or at all), and latter two have seen their drawing power fade a bit with age. Such flaws, while minor, devalue marketability.

When Pepsi went scouring for its commercial complement to Bruce Lee, the company probably stopped at Carano when it realized she was the best bet to grab the target audience of testosterone-filled, thrill-seeking, 18-to-34-year-old males. That’s because Carano has a combo of assets not found in any MMA candidate who wears a cup:

1. She’s hot. 2. She is among a finite crop of high-caliber female fighters. 3. She’s smokin’ hot.

On the marketing level, Carano is a picture-perfect representative for the sport, which has its foot pressed ambitiously to the floorboard on the road to worldwide attention. She can attract fans and consumers with her talent, with her beauty, or both.

It’s the same with other top female stars, a limited list that includes Maria Sharapova, Danica Patrick, Serena and Venus Williams, and Annika Sorenstam.

Sharapova, the tennis vixen and highest-earning female athlete, gives us a solid comparison for Carano’s star potential.

Sharapova is a statuesque blonde who has gained a large following by winning three grand slam titles, endorsing products and appearing in magazines like Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue. She’s Russian, but basically grew up in the United States, perhaps the most important land of buyers.

She is the measuring stick when evaluating today’s most legitimate female sports stars.

However, while MMA is more macho than dainty, the sport just might give Carano an edge on Sharapova in terms of exposure to the prime audience. In MMA, Carano shares the same cages as men on the same cards as men. And she is watched, largely, by fanatical young males who are prone to frivolous spending and infatuation (that’s not sexist; that’s realist).

To a lesser degree, those are the same dynamics that help ratchet Patrick’s popularity as an Indy car driver and covergirl. Plus, Danica competes directly against men, a factor that also helps accumulate female fans who want to root for their gender representative.

Still, Carano can even trump a female star like Patrick because, well, we can actually watch her when she competes. We don’t just see a fast car with a number on the side and a black helmet sticking out of the cockpit. We don’t have to wait until the post-event press conference to catch a glimpse of Carano.

Also, as a fighter, Carano puts on a clear display of explosive athleticism, rather than performing a difficult skill like racing a car or hitting a golf ball.

She’s a great athlete. She’s a looker. She seems down to earth. Strikeforce would hit the jackpot by signing Carano. The promotion already inked rival Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos, and the two will hopefully tangle this year in what would be the biggest women’s fight in history.

A loss to Santos might be a setback to Carano’s stardom, but with the target on her back and the growth of women’s MMA, it’s impossible to expect her to remain perfect for much longer.

As long as Carano maintains her sparkling image and continues to improve, she can overcome defeat. After all, winning and losing isn’t necessarily the be all and end all with our female sports queens.

Case in point: Anna Kournikova.