Those of us who’ve been around a while have seen significant changes in the world the past 15 years. Many “firsts” have been recorded for the history books. Along with the excitement for those new societal evolutions we’ve had to contend with our love for tradition and comfort with the familiar. The story is very much the same for fans of MMA and specifically UFC. We’ve seen women’s bouts become a more prominent and generally accepted event in Strikeforce. However the UFC which can undoubtably be considered the largest and most popular MMA Promotions Company in the world is now opening it’s doors to female fighters for the first time.
Before we discuss the main subject of this article it’s important that everyone reading understand, change is never easy, but like those of us who have trained very hard to learn new techniques and develop greater athletic skill the rewards at the conclusion of our efforts are always greater than the torment experienced from the fear of change.
Our story begins with a seasoned athlete by the name of Ronda Rousey, born in Riverside California on February 1st, 1987. Even at birth her entry into life was not an easy one. Almost having died from asphyxiation due to complications at birth from umbilical cord strangulation, she later found that she had significant challenges speaking coherently until age six. However, at even this early age she exhibited a will to fight. She over came that challenge and began to exhibit athleticism at a young age. She began competitive swimming with her father as her biggest cheerleader. However, at age 8 her father died to which she then decided to abandon swimming in favor of following in her mother’s footsteps. (Her mother was the first American to win at the World Judo Championships, taking home gold in the 1984 tournament in the -56 kg class.) In various interviews Ronda has recounted a story from age 11 where she entered her first Judo tournament. At that time she broke her big toe and began to cry and claimed she didn’t want to fight anymore. (Any of us who’d been around children can understand that for an 11 year old this can be a pretty emotional experience.)
Her mother, however, didn’t coddle her, instead she insisted that same day that she run laps around the mat the entire night. At first Ronda claimed “I thought she was just being cruel…” but later went on to say “…but she (her mother) told me, “Sometimes you have to fight when you’re injured. You need to know you’re capable of that.””
Traditionally it has been expected for a father to say something like this to a son but the story seen from the perspective of a mother daughter relationship truly shows us the fighting spirit that courses through the veins of Ronda and her mother.
Later in life at age 17 she became one of the youngest Judo players in the entire 2004 Olympics when she qualified for the American team. That year she also won the a gold medal at the 2004 World Junior Judo Championships in Budapest, Hungary.
In 2006 she took home the gold at the Birmingham World Cup in England where she later became the first U.S. athlete to ever win two Junior World medals, taking home a bronze at the Junior World Championships.
In 2007, she won a silver medal in the 70 kg class at the 2007 World Judo Championships, and a bronze at the 2007 Pan Am Games. The crowning achievement, however, was during the 2008 Olympic Games, where she won a bronze medal by defeating Annett Boehm by Yuko.
After transitioning into Mixed Martial Arts in 2010 she immediately exhibited excellent skill and strategy by defeating all her opponents with a first round arm bar. Rousey then took on Miesha Tate for the Strikeforce 39’s Woman’s Bantamweight Championships. While Tate did put on a good fight she was defeated by a very deep first round arm bar.
Fast forward to 2013… Now we have an unprecedented event taking place this coming Saturday (February 23rd). On that date UFC 157 will be featuring it’s first Women’s MMA fight with Ronda Rousey as the defending Bantam Weight Champion facing former US Marine Liz Carmouche.
While much of the attention in the media has been towards the current champion Ronda Rousey there is great deal more to Carmouche than meet’s the eye.
Liz Carmouche is an MMA fighter, a former US Marine that served three tours in Iraq and during that in the service the US military still had a “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy. In order to ensure she could keep the job she loved, the job that would enable her to attend college and set the stage for the rest of her life, she had to live a lie. Liz Carmouche is Lesbian.
She did what she could to hide her sexual orientation from her colleagues knowing the consequences of being outed and even worse her best friend in the Corps, known only as “Kim,” was a gay basher. Carmouche explained in a recent interview “There was a constant fear I’d be outed. It made it so hard. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve been through.”
Yet just three years after leaving the Marine Corps, Carmouche has found a place where she’s accepted for who she is, the currently male-dominated UFC, which until Carmouche’s arrival has never had an openly gay fighter on its roster.
This too has been an evolutionary step for the UFC and a bold one at that. While the demographics may suggest that the current 18 – 34 year old audience are generally more accepting of homosexuality than prior generations, there’s no doubt there are still those who have questioned and criticized the athlete.
A somewhat surprising yet extremely welcome supporter of this evolution has been UFC President Dana White, who formerly had been rumored to be non-supportive of gay rights let alone the inclusion of openly gay athletes in the UFC. That rumor, however, has no basis in fact or reality.
At a recent press conference in December when Mr. White announced the UFC 157 title fight between Rousey and Carmouche he praised the openly gay athlete for her bravery and candid approach to the matter. He went on to question why some states still ban gay marriage.
“There are a lot of gay athletes, actors, actresses and entertainers out there that, for whatever reason, haven’t come out and so the public doesn’t know about them,” Mr. White explained. “It takes a brave person to come out and admit it, because there’s a tendency to be afraid of what coming out might do to their careers and how people are going to treat them afterwards.”
He went on to say, “I love what Liz did. I know a lot of people think I’m some homophobe, but I’m the furthest thing from it. I think it’s ridiculous in 2013 that the government tells two people who love each other they can’t marry each other. It’s ridiculous.”
Adding to all this Liz Carmouche did not have the luxury of training in the arts from a very young age, instead she had held jobs since 12 years old in order to achieve her goals. Given her family’s modest background, luxuries were not on the menu. If Liz wanted more than what was necessary, then she had to work for it.
So there you have it, two fighters, two diverse backgrounds, an unprecedented matchup in UFC history yet the inevitable romanticism of this fight is overwhelming. Many colleagues have likened this to that of the original Rocky film. The well known rags to riches American dream story of Rocky Balboa, a kind hearted man of modest beginnings, the epitome of an “underdog” who goes from being a mere club fighter to having a shot at the World Heavyweight Title.
The result of this fight could change Carmouche’s life for ever. Yet invariably and in all good faith quite hopefully this fight will usher in a new era of diversity for all sports. UFC fighters are among the toughest in the bunch and if they can be open to evolution then no doubt others should be as well.
At SciFighting, we wish both fighters the best of luck! We are huge supporters of diversity and evolution and as such we praise the UFC and Dana White specifically for his vision and openness about topics that have been taboo in a male dominated sport.
“We” will be there, at the Honda Center, to watch the fight live. You can expect our post fight commentary soon after it’s conclusion.