Liz Carmouche

Liz Carmouche has been all over the world—born in Louisiana, raised in Japan, served three tours of duty in the Middle East, now living in San Diego—and actually discovered what she wanted to do with her life while serving in Iraq in 2009: she wanted to fight.

Being in the Middle East was like being “in [a] parallel world...where you don't have to worry about bills or obligations to other people, you just focus on your job and getting the job done,” she said. That clarity of mind helped her realize that what she was doing just for exercise, when she wasn't doing her work as a helicopter electrician, was something she actually wanted to do for a living.

So when she got home, she went into the world of mixed martial arts, or MMA, fighting. MMA's popularity has surged in recent years, though the sport's roots go all the way back to ancient Greece, and fights take in millions of dollars in revenue. Women's MMA fighters are gaining more awareness and compete in organizations including Bellator, Strikeforce and the all-female Invicta.

Full Fight | Liz Carmouche vs. Deanna Bennett | BELLATOR 246 youtu.be

In Carmouche's very first professional fight in May 2010 at Native Fighting Championship 5, she defeated her opponent Aleena Albertson in less than a minute via submission. Her second bout against Margarita de la Cruz Ramirez less than a month later went on much longer—five minutes—before a doctor stoppage declared Carmouche the winner. Before summer 2010 had ended, Carmouche fought in her first Strikeforce challenge and won by unanimous decision.

Her career took off like wildfire and she was in a position to challenge Strikeforce champion Marloes Coenen in March 2011, before her career was even a year old. She lost that bout, but still considers it the most rewarding and best fight in her books because it was like a turning point for her.

Carmouche faced the biggest moment of her career when she faced 135 lb. Bantamweight Champion Ronda Rousey in the title fight of UFC 157 in Anaheim, California. Although she lost, the fight made history in at least two ways: it was the first-ever women's fight in the history of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, plus one of the fighters, Carmouche, is openly gay.

All three of her tours with the Marine Corps were served during the era of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. She has opened up about how tough it was to hide who she was: coping with slurs, people trying to out her and other people who were forced to keep the secret too. Right as she was leaving the service, she decided—despite DADT still being in place—to tell her military friends the truth.

The way they responded has set a precedent for how people in the MMA world have taken to learning that she is openly gay: not much backlash at all. The inspiration of a supportive atmosphere in Carmouche's training gym gave her the ability to be out through her entire fighting career.

The Carmouche-Rousey fight became the main event for UFC 157, the one featured on posters and at the top of the fight cards, after a successful social media campaign got the attention of promoter Dana White. White said that, while most other women fighters were finding reasons not to face Rousey, Carmouche wanted it.

UFC 157 Rousey VS Carmouche Full fight! youtu.be

“It was amazing,” Carmouche said. “It's a real honor to be the main event and to be a part of history…I never expected that we'd be in the position that we are today.”

There was an outcry from some MMA fans on the Internet who objected to the idea of two women battling it out in the main event—there's even a doctored version of the UFC 157 poster that features male fighters Lyoto Machida and Dan Henderson as the main event instead—but Carmouche's dedicated fans (she calls them Lizbos, though her coach was the one who thought up that term) and others don't care about that pettiness.

“It's amazing to think that there are so many people out there supporting me,” she said.

Carmouche was considered the underdog in the fight because Rousey is the champion and has a lot of hype, but the two of them didn’t engage in any social media trash-talking or attempts to intimidate. Rousey said that she knew she couldn't get inside Carmouche's head prior to the fight because of her military experience; Carmouche said she's found a flaw in Rousey's technique but won't reveal it.

But when Carmouche isn't training for upcoming fights, she lives a quiet life in San Diego with her girlfriend and focuses on the success of helping train other fighters at an area gym. She helps to train young fighters and Carmouche says that she really just wants to help them follow their dreams, whether or not they involve the ring.

Follow Carmouche on Twitter.

Photo courtesy of Red Bull

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Photo courtesy of Rumble Boxing Gulch Nashville

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