This November we hosted a reunion of Master Toddy’s old students at the Academy. I took the opportunity to sit down with Master Toddy and Dick James and asked them what it was like back in the early days of Gina Carano and Fight Girls.
Dick, Master Toddy’s student from over 30 years ago, was kind enough to provide us with photos from their original trip to Thailand filming Ring Girls, which we’ve used throughout this article.
Here is what they had to say:
2004. I got a phone call from a TV show, ESPN, the program was called I Do Anything. They were looking for a woman that can fight. It’s about a guys who have to do anything they’re told to do, like riding a bull, jump from a plane, jump from a cliff, and then it’s the final episode. They have 4 men left, and the four men have to fight a Muay Thai fighter, a woman. So I sent Gina Carano, Lisa King, Christine Toledo, and Latasha Marzolla. So when all the girls in the studio were ready to fight with the guy, and I keep calling my girls to say hey, make sure you got to use the round house kick, the crocodile roundhouse, and the girls keep saying yes sir.
And it happened that the guy who owned the program also owned Charlie’s Angels. And he said wow, who is Master Toddy? This is like Charlie’s Angels, only these girls can actually fight! Then the fight go on, and the girl beat the guy really good. And the guy said oh my god, we spent millions of dollars making Charlie’s Angels, because of the stunt women, because the girls couldn’t fight. But this is so beautiful, as beautiful as anyone in Charlie’s Angels, and also they can fight!
So he asked to follow my lifestyle, so I said I’m gonna take my girls for a test of Muay Thai skill, we’re gonna challenge the best of Thailand. They said don’t tell nobody, stay there, within two hours their whole team was in my office, the team from Charlie’s Angels, the director of Survivor and Master Chef in my office. And they said we got a camera to follow you, and that was it. We came to Thailand, and my old students who are always with me together, such as Dick James who came to help.
When I first got to Thailand, I looked at the girls, they don’t look like fighters, absolutely beautiful. Then when you start holding the pads, unbelievable power, you can’t believe that they can fight like that. When we go out and they’re dressed you’d think butter would melt in their mouth, they’re like models. Then they get in the ring and they just change, bang. Absolutely, fantastic, the Thai girls didn’t stand a chance, then they change back into their dresses like nothing happened. You’d think they’d just been off the catwalk.
Since then, the documentary Ring Girls became a motivational famous film. Blockbuster Video sold first to Manchester, 75 thousand in the first day just in Manchester alone. And it went on to many countries. Because it’s a real story, the fight is real, everything real life, so we’re not as exciting as a movie, but it’s very exciting for a documentary because it’s a girl. We became famous in no time.
Before we knew it, it was around the world, and when it came to Thailand I am speaking Thai on the screen because they dubbed my voice! I’m very proud that Christmas I had phone calls all day long, it was on TV in Brazil and all over the world for Christmas, and everybody is ringing me and looking at my website and saying your voice is still the same, and I had to say “heart of a lion” on the phone and “you can do it, come on”, and “Gina, you do on style, and don’t forget your cobra, come on cobra!!” all these things.
That’s how Gina Carano started to be known. Because it’ s real life, she went in the ring, she got knocked down, she went down, and said “what the f… am I doing here”, and that was it, it sold.
Gina Carano broke the ice for female Thai Boxers
And after that, we start appearing in places, you see before I used to get paid a few thousand for speech and seminar. Now all of a sudden ten grand. The money come in and out, the people come follow us training, just from a real life documentary, and Gina Carano was approached to fight in one of the biggest MMA fights, and it was the first time for a woman. She fought in San Jose, and the tickets sold a million dollars at the gate. She broke the ice, because people never went to see women, but they came to see Gina Carano because of Ring Girls.
I remember back to 1977, me and Ronnie Green were trying to break the ice doing Muay Thai in England. It was the hardest thing in the world in that time. No matter where you want to go, you cant even rent a church hall to teach, because we’re not under any government commission or license or anything. Ronnie green, the first man to jump in the ring on behalf of the English, fought in Europe, Holland, and won his first European title against the Thai champion for his first fight in 1977. When I asked Ronnie can we do it again he said no haha. We couldn’t believe it. After that, we couldn’t break even on every promotion. It was quite stressful for us, to break the ice in that time, then the first girl came on, Lisa Howarth. And she helped to break the ice. In the end, we had quite a lot of women who started to learn Muay Thai, but the Gina Carano team were the luckiest people in the world, who came on in the right time, in the right place – Las Vegas.
Everyone who saw her thanked her for helping us make our dream come true. Now she is in the movies, two movies filming at the same time! And many more. She cannot even walk on the street!
Written by Master Toddy’s Muay Thai Academy