Ultimate Fighting Championship competitor Liz Carmouche is about to make history again. She's already UFC's first openly gay fighter, but now she will face fighter Ronda Rousey in the league's first-ever female bout.
Carmouche, 29, has risen through the ranks of mixed martial arts after finishing her five-year career with the Marines in 2009. Amid three tours in Iraq as an aviation electronics technician, Carmouche was also working in the shadow of "don't ask, don't tell."
"I definitely was not out as a marine," she says. "The 'don't ask, don't tell' policy was still in effect, and the people around me did not seem to be open to the idea to begin with."
But after she left the Marines as a sergeant, Carmouche quickly took on MMA and has become a formidable fighter known for a tenacious game. On Saturday at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., she will face Rousey in a landmark match with the support of her Lizbos, the name that her thousands of fans have lovingly taken on.
To be out and to have fans -- male and female, gay, straight, and in between -- who playfully embrace her sexual orientation is a major feat, especially in such a testosterone-driven sport. The Lizbos may be a group with a name that is a simple play on words, as Carmouche says, but her colleagues' respectful embracing of her within the league should not be ignored. Carmouche says she has never faced homophobia head on during her time in UFC or in the mixed martial arts world in general.
"I'm sure it's happened, but I'm sure I'm just too naive to notice it," she admits.
After announcing the historic fight lineup late last year, UFC president Dana White said he thought Carmouche was brave for being out, because he hypothesized that there are many gay athletes too worried about their careers to come out.
"I love what she did," he said. "I know I have the big 'homophobe' persona and people think I'm some homophobe. I'm the furthest thing from it. I think it's ridiculous it's 2013 [that] the government tells two people they can't marry each other. Who is the government to tell two people who say they love each other they can't be married? It's ridiculous."
Even Rousey herself, who is known for trash-talking her competitors to gain the upper hand, has knocked off the negative talk about Carmouche.
"I like Liz," she said at a press conference for the fight. "She's a marine, I'm not going to be able to intimidate this girl. ... Because it's a first-time event, because the first time for women to fight on a UFC card, and she's the first openly gay fighter, it doesn't need to be any squabbling or argument. It's an extraordinarily positive thing, we don't need an argument to push it."
Rousey is also a formidable figure among UFC fighters, the first and current women's bantamweight champion, ranked number 1 at 135 pounds. She was the first American woman to earn a medal at the Olympic games in judo since the event's inception in 1992. By making this match a high-profle fight, White has shown his quick switch from "never" wanting women in UFC to embracing women in the league and building them up just as he would with a male fight.
Carmouche is the perceived underdog in this matchup, but she's not letting it shake her training or tactics.
"My training is always the same," she says. "A few things might change for me from fight to fight, but it's really the same regimen. Depending on what I'm training for, I might do more defensive moves, more counters, more attacks. It just depends on the fight, but it's really just the same old thing."