BURBANK – With the exception to those most ardent of mixed-martial-arts fans, Liz “Girl-Rilla” Carmouche, despite an excellent resume in the world of MMA, was a somewhat unknown to Ultimate Fighting Championship followers and certainly the mainstream.
That’s certainly changed in a big way in the lead-up to what is perceived to be the most monumental bout in the history of women’s mixed martial arts.
Carmouche openly volunteered and asked for a bout with “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey, the UFC’s first-ever women’s bantamweight titlist, and received an opportunity that has her less than a week away from headlining “UFC 157: Rousey vs. Carmouche” on Saturday night live on pay-per-view from the Honda Center in Anaheim.
“For a lot of MMA fans, especially in the UFC, they didn’t know who I was … unless you’re really involved in women’s MMA,” said Carmouche on Monday afternoon at Morton’s The Steakhouse in Burbank, as she began fight week at a media luncheon.
But thanks to a huge media push, bolstered by the UFC’s “Primetime” show that is a three-episode series following the combatants leading up to the fight, people are getting to know plenty about the affable Carmouche – a former United States Marine who will take part in the UFC’s first-ever women’s bout and will enter the Octagon cage as the organization’s first openly gay fighter.
“I don’t think it’s really gonna set in until after the fight,” said Carmouche, 28, of the magnitude of Saturday’s bout.
Having spent “five years and change” serving in the Marine Corps through multiple tours in Iraq, Carmouche boasts an 8-2 MMA record after beginning her career in 2010, with her highest-profile fights coming under the Strikeforce banner in closely contested losses to Sarah Kaufman and Marloes Coenen. The latter was a title bout for the Strikeforce 135-pound championship, which has since essentially transposed into the UFC crown after the UFC absorbed Strikeforce and Rousey, the last to hold the belt. Since Carmouche’s loss via decision to Kaufman in July of 2011, she has run off two straight victories in the Invicta FC all-women’s fighting organization, stopping Asheigh Curry in April of 2012 and then Kaitlin Young three months later.
Though she’s certainly a veteran to the sport, the media blitz she’s incurred since her matchup with Rousey was announced in December is definitely something novel. On Monday, while Carmouche admitted it’s something new, she said she’s adjusted to it, simply setting apart an hour a day to do interviews rather than her normal break with working and training.
“For the training, it really hasn’t affected it,” she said of the exposure, “other than people just showing up at the gym.”
Carmouche, a San Diego resident, said she’s getting recognized quite a bit more, though, perhaps surprisingly not in the Hillcrest neighborhood of San Diego she frequents, which has a large and active lesbian and gay population.
“Still, when I walk through Hillcrest, nobody recognizes me,” she said. “The moment I walk out of Hillcrest, it’s different.”
Though Hillcrest might not have quite caught an MMA fever just yet, Carmouche believes she’ll have plenty of her “Lizbos” – the nickname for her fans – supporting her.
“If the gym was open that late, it would be closed [on Saturday night],” said Carmouche of her home gym in San Diego.
Nonetheless, there are still many that dispute women’s fighting in general, much less that Rousey and Carmouche should be headlining a major pay-per-view with the likes of former champions and title contenders Dan Henderson, Lyoto Machida, Urijah Faber and Josh Koscheck on the undercard. But, in introducing herself to the world, Carmouche is quick to point out that she speaks loudest with what she does rather than what she says.
“I don’t believe in letting my words speak for me, I let my actions speak,” she said. “We’re gonna let our actions speak and we’re gonna blow people away with this fight.”