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Wednesday, Dec 12, 2012

UFC Women’s Championship Challenger Liz Carmouche: “I Have No Fear of Ronda (Rousey)”

Liz Carmouche says she is unafraid of UFC women's champ Ronda Rousey. Photo credit: Esther Lin/Invicta FC

By Joshua Molina

Liz Carmouche is the other woman.

The other woman in the biggest women’s mixed martial arts fight of all time.

The world already knows the Ronda Rousey story: The sassy U.S. Olympian won the Bronze Medal in the 2008 Olympic Games, turned to mixed martial arts, where she tapped six professional opponents by vicious armbar in the first round, became a magazine cover girl and thrust women’s MMA into the mainstream.

And on Feb. 23, 2013, her rise to stardom will culminate when she headlines a UFC Pay Per View, as the first UFC women’s champion. And up until now, the MMA and mainstream media have focused largely on Rousey and her rise to fame.

But when Rousey steps into the cage in February in Anaheim, California, she will be fighting a woman whose story is equally inspiring and remarkable.

Rousey will stare into the eyes of 28-year-old Liz Carmouche, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, who served three terms in Iraq, while working as a helicopter electrician.  Carmouche is also the first openly gay fighter in MMA history. It’s a role that she welcomes, cherishes, and embraces.

“I don’t want to hide from it, (being a lesbian), Carmouche told Full Contact Fighter.

Carmouche will be front and center for the world to see when she and Rousey collide in the first female UFC event in history.  But Carmouche plans to be more than just a footnote in history. She’s planning to stop Rousey in her tracks and emerge as the new women’s face of MMA.

“I have no fear of Ronda,” Carmouche said. “I am ready and excited. I want to make it a war.”

In her last start, Carmouche (far) submitted Kaitlin Young with a rear-naked choke in the second round of their matchup at Invicta FC 2 on July 28. Photo credit: Tracy Lee/Invicta FC

Carmouche is 7-2, with 4 KOs and two submission victories. At 5 feet, 6 inches tall, with rounded shoulders and curvy biceps, Carmouche has one of the more muscular and fit bodies in womens’s MMA.  Nicknamed “The Girl-Rilla, Carmouche uses an aggressive style, with frequent Muay Thai clinches to overpower her opponents.

She was raised in Okinawa, and brought up by her mother and stepfather who taught at a military college.  She liked sports as a girl and developed an interest in boxing and wrestling.

“I liked the aggressive nature of the individual sports,” she said.

But her small high school with a graduating class of 25 didn’t offer those sports and it cost $14 to take a bus ride out of town to train in those sports privately.  Instead she played soccer, volleyball and cross-country.  She enrolled in the Marine Corp and fell in love with MMA after a friend introduced her to the sport.

She caught the eye of then-San Jose-based Strikeforce, which promoted women’s MMA long before the UFC hopped on the bandwagon.  As a replacement for an injured Miesha Tate, she nearly became the Strikeforce Women’s bantamweight champiom in 2010 when she battled then-champ Marloes Coenen.

After pounding Coenen for nearly four rounds, Carmouche made a Chael Sonnen-like blunder and got caught in the triangle choke.

“My first thought was ‘I am going to slam her out of this,'” Carmouche said.

But she couldn’t, and she tapped out, in a fight she was winning.  She was dejected after the loss. Her coach, however, told her he was proud of her performance.

“I learned a lot,” Carmouche said. “I walked away feeling confident.”

Carmouche later dropped a unanimous decision to Sarah Kaufman, a woman Rousey destroyed by armbar submission.  Carmouche said she was “off my game,” and not into it for the Kaufman fight.

But she understands the gravity of the Rousey fight.

When word came down that Rousey would be brought over to the UFC, Carmouche and her fans called for the title shot on Twitter.  The grassroots campaign helped push Carmouche over other contenders such as Miesha Tate and Sara McMann.

From Strikeforce to Invicta FC to UFC, Carmouche is no stranger to the big stage in the MMA world.

Then one day Carmouche got a call from UFC President Dana White.

“I can’t even describe how it felt,” Carmouche said, of the short call offering her the fight.

Carmouche was ready. She has been ready.

“We’ve been preparing for this fight since the moment she took the belt,” said Carmouche, who added that she respects Rousey because she has backed up all of her trash talk.

She’s not in awe of Rousey, though. After her near-upset of Coenen, she now believes she’s as good as anyone in the cage.

She trains at the San Diego Combat Academy, where she teaches Muay Thai and MMA to kids 5 to 15 years old.  She’s planning a large contingent to make the trip to Anaheim to watch the fight.  She’s fully aware that she will make history with Rousey as one of two women in the first UFC women’s match, and alone as the first openly gay fighter in UFC history.

The other women, she said, have been supportive, and has not felt any additional pressure from being a pioneer in MMA.

“I love being that person, that role model,” said Carmouche, who said she and the UFC are still working out the details on her long-term contract.

And she would love to be the one who makes history as the fighter who first KO’d or submitted Rousey.

“I have no problem being the underdog and being underrated,” Carmouche said. “It helps motivate me.”



posted by JoshuaM @ 4:13 pm
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