Since her Strikeforce debut in 2011, there's been no shortage of buzz around UFC import Ronda Rousey. Now it's time to meet Liz Carmouche, the second female fighter in the UFC.
UFC president Dana White made it official at the UFC on FOX 5 press conference in Seattle: Strikeforce bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey will become the first female fighter in UFC history, and she'll defend her new belt in the main event of UFC 157 on February 23 against fellow pioneer Liz Carmouche.
While the news of the UFC's women's division came as no surprise to most fans who'd been following the story, the choice of opponents left many casual observers asking, "Who is Liz Carmouche?"
Hailing from San Diego, Carmouche (7-2) is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps who brings a powerful ground and pound attack and a two-fight, two-finish winning streak into her first UFC title fight. After calling for a shot at Rousey, she will get her opportunity on February 23 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Liz,” said Rousey. “She’s the only
one that really stepped up and said she wanted this fight right now, and
it speaks a lot to her."
A Different Kind of Dream
Carmouche remembers being one of the many young women who grew up idolizing soccer players while growing up in Okinawa. She looked at former US star Mia Hamm paving the way for a new generation of female athletes and said "I want to be the next one." "I always hoped that I would play professionally, but never did I ever think that I would actually be in that place.”
Life usually has a way of getting in the middle of such dreams, and after spending 17 years of her life in Japan, Carmouche’s journey took her to the United States Marine Corps, where she did three tours of duty and was an aviation electrician. Soccer and Japan faded into her rearview mirror, and after settling into life in her native United States after her time in the service was done, she admits that “It was more of a culture shock coming to the States and living here than it was living in Japan.”
But three years ago, she found mixed martial arts. Two years after that, she became one of the top contenders in the ultra-competitive 135-pound weight class in a stunning turn of events for the 28-year-old.
“It was only two years ago that I was thinking I’d like to do MMA, and that my biggest dream is that I could appear in Strikeforce," said Carmouche last summer. "I wish that Strikeforce would merge into the UFC. But I never thought that that it would actually be a possibility. Every day, it’s just kinda like ‘am I really doing this or am I leading somebody else’s life?’ It’s a surprise to me.”
It’s not a surprise to friends and family, who knew as soon as she declared that she was going to put on a pair of gloves and fight, that she had found her home.
“Everybody thought that it was fitting for me,” she said. “I’ve always been a really aggressive person, I’ve always tried to be the best that I could in sports and tried to challenge myself. So when I told people I was doing MMA, they were like ‘yeah, I can totally see that; that fits you.’”
“That’s who wanted to fight her,” said White when asked why Carmouche
was selected as Rousey’s first challenger in the UFC. “Believe me,
people aren’t kicking the doors down at Zuffa to fight her.”
One look at her in a fight will also make it clear that there is no better athletic fit for the young lady dubbed “Girlrilla,” as she’s an aggressive force whose takedowns and ground-and-pound make her a handful for anyone across the cage from her.
“If it were up to me, I’d be in the gym for eight hours straight without stopping, just trying to fine tune everything and exhaust myself,” she said. “And they’re the ones who say ‘you’ve done enough today, you can go ahead and rest.’ Are you sure? I can do another hour, I can do another class. For me, I’m back in the gym training the Monday after the fight, waiting for that two week phone call, and I have to be ready for it.”
February's Rousey vs. Carmouche pits two determined and skilled fighters against each other with a lot at stake for both. But unlike a male fight, these female fighters are tasked with not only representing themselves, but the sport as well, with the added pressure of stepping into the first women's fight in UFC history and headlining a Pay-Per-View card. It’s a role Carmouche and her peers accept eagerly.
“Knowing that making a mark for women will drive our sport into the future makes me work that much harder,” she said. “It’s not more pressure, it’s just motivation to put on the best performance I can."
Mia Hamm would be proud.