It's no secret that women have had an uphill battle in achieving equality in several aspects of life, including professional sports. And although the situation has changed positively over the years, it is still a slow and inefficient process, with women often fighting twice as hard to achieve their objectives.
This Saturday, we will see two women fighting inside the UFC Octagon for the first time, and with a title on the line no less, as Ronda Rousey defends her women’s bantamweight crown against Liz Carmouche in the main event of UFC 157. And just like that, women have the place they deserve in the organization: the same as any other fighter.
This pair of talented athletes is not only representing women, but other important demographic groups as well. Ronda is Latina. Her maternal grandfather was an immigrant from Venezuela, her mother still speaks Spanish, as does her sister Maria. Ronda didn’t learn the language, as she struggled with a speech impediment as a child, putting her in another segment of the population that has often struggled in society: girls who are bullied and teased by classmates and others. As for the challenger, Liz is gay, with the US Marine Corps veteran proudly declaring "I am the first lesbian UFC fighter." In addition, she not only trains MMA, but does it while working at a gym in San Diego, doing front desk work, teaching and opening and closing the facility.
Representing not only themselves but several others can often be a burden, but these impressive young ladies have embraced this part of such a historic occasion.
"I cannot put into words what this means, it is an honor to be here," said Liz about being part of UFC 157. Living with her girlfriend Eliza Lopez in San Diego’s Hillcrest neighborhood, Carmouche represents the gay and lesbian community all the way to her rainbow mouthpiece.
Her opponent, not surprisingly, is an exemplary woman too. Her mother AnnMaria De Mars is the first American (male or female) to win a World Judo Championship, and she also has two master degrees and a doctorate degree. More importantly, she taught her daughter many important lessons.
Rousey’s sister, Maria Burns Ortiz, also successfully transitioned to sports as a reporter for ESPN and FOX News Latino. "My mother raised us as any Latina mother, always encouraging us to do better,” said Burns Ortiz. “Nobody believes that Ronda is Latina, but she was raised in this bilingual environment more common today. She was always competitive. I think she is above average, and until someone stops her she will keep submitting everybody. Also, just because they haven’t seen her do anything else does not mean she cannot; she will do whatever it takes to win, not matter what the cost. It’s her way.”
Overcoming obstacles isn’t always easy, and it certainly wasn’t for Carmouche. While serving in the Marines she did three tours of duty in Iraq, and she says these experiences formed her and made sure that nothing could ever intimidate her. But her internal struggle was still present, for at that time she was forced to keep her homosexuality hidden. Liz says she was forced to live with the fear of being found out and paying the consequences, but as soon as she had the opportunity she made it public, without fear or shame anymore, just living her life as one should: normally. And although she doesn’t wave her homosexuality as a flag, she certainly is an example for the gay and lesbian community, for whom all those who achieve success are role models and represent small victories.
"When I was little I had to make up and imagine all these girl role models that weren’t there,” says Ronda about her childhood, but luckily for girls today, she and Liz have become those examples that anyone would love to follow. Maria adds, "She should be a role model for Latinas; many may not know it but when they realize she is Hispanic they may go 'wow, that makes her even cooler.' And because there are not many outstanding Hispanic female athletes, Ronda is breaking boundaries.”
No doubt. Just like all those seeking to improve their lives and overcome any obstacle in front of them, whether Latino immigrants, homosexuals, or women just looking for equality, it’s worth repeating that Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche are breaking boundaries. And if someone still doubts it, they’d better move out of the way.
"It makes me mad that people are like ‘How dare you think so much of yourself, how dare you to think that you can do all this?’” said Ronda. “You know what, I had to work my ass off to believe in myself. How dare you believe that I shouldn’t? I don’t know how you’re supposed to retain any kind of faith in people when you have to deal with that all the time."
Well, the answer is that when you see this pair of women, it makes it easy to keep faith in people.