Life after Rousey: What changed and what hasn’t between Liz Carmouche’s 2 UFC title shots (2024)

For the past six-and-a-half years, Liz Carmouche has found herself carrying variations of the same dialogue.

A person will approach her and say they rememberthat fight. Carmouche has had plenty of fights — 19, professionally, with nine of them in the UFC — but she knows exactly which fight they’re talking about. “You were so close,” they tell her. “Yep,” she answers. “That bite,”they’ll continue. “Yep,” she’ll answer yet again.


“There’s like a series of questions that have stayed the same,” Carmouche said. “Nothing’s changed about that.”

We all know whatthat fight is, too. In February 2013, at UFC 157, Carmouche became the first woman ever to walk out for a UFC fight. Ronda Rousey would become the second, after joining her in the cage at Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. Rousey won, via her signature first-round armbar, but a belt was the least of what she got for her efforts. From that night on, Rousey would launch herself into mainstream stardom, taking the UFC right along for the ride.

As for the woman who lost that fight?

“I still went back to the gym and worked on Monday,” Carmouche said of life after Rousey, which changed in some ways, but, in others, “not even slightly.”

As far as the things that did change, there was, for instance, some financial impact. The money wasn’t exactly enough for Carmouche to trade the “crappy house” where she still lives for an idyllic villa in Tuscany, but the fight did put the San Diego-based vet in a position to invest in her business and in her fighting career — not to mention afford luxuries like, say, food in her fridge and gasoline in her car.

But the biggest change was of a different nature. People now knew who she was. And, for the self-proclaimed “socially awkward” Carmouche, that turned the previously uneventful act of existing in public into a new, frankly a bit weird experience.

“In a way, I became this person for people that I didn’t anticipate,” Carmouche said. “And, to me — I’m a very private person. And very introverted. And here I was, having to be forced to be an extrovert, and it’s just not my person. It’s completely draining for me. So that was probably the weirdest change for me. It’s that I felt like were places I could go where I was a local — I had frequented, like, say, a coffee shop and they knew my order.


“And then now, there were like, ‘Oh my God, you’re Liz.’ I’m like, ‘I’m still the same Liz that was here yesterday ordering this coffee. Nothing’s changed.’”

The attention hasn’t entirely dissipated all those years later (see the opening paragraph’s recurring dialogue). Although MMA fans can be known to have short memories — like fans in every sport, or in any field of human achievement, really — apparently that’s just the kind of thing that happens when you’re involved in events of real and, in some ways, historical significance.

Carmouche (13-6) is 35 and preparing for her second stab at UFC gold, this time against flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko (17-3). Rousey rose and fell, her departure from MMA all but made official after a move to the WWE. Basically, a whole lot has happened from 2013 to 2019, but Carmouche still finds herself answering the same questions — from fans, from strangers, from us.

She answers them, at least to me, thoughtfully and attentively, repeatedly flashing a wide smile. She gets why they’re being asked. Her name, for better or worse, is at least professionally attached to Rousey’s, and it’s unlikely that it will ever cease to be.

Does it get annoying, though?

“Absolutely,” Carmouche said, her warmth intact. “Had it been a win, I think it would probably be less annoying, right? You’re not reminded of a ‘Oh, you were so close’ and just a ‘You achieved it.’”

That bit, the “so close,” haunted her for a while. At one point of that one round, Carmouche was able to get Rousey’s back. She was working on a crank. Rousey got out, but not without leaving some teeth marks in Carmouche’s arm.”I’m not one of those people that carry stuff to bed,” Carmouche said, but there were plenty of times, those quiet moments of reflection, in which the “what ifs” crept in. What if she’d done things differently? What if Rousey had done things differently? What if, instead of losing, Carmouche had won?


But, then again, that’s kind of how she is. Even if that last “what if” had happened, Carmouche says she’d still be asking the same questions. And they’d be just as unanswerable. After going through all the stages of post-loss grief, from the high of being in such a massive occasion to the tough realization that she’d landed on the bad side of it, Carmouche arrived at the acceptance.

If anything, she can appreciate how it all played out both on a personal level and in the grand scheme of things.

“I think one of the big things that Ronda did is she did make it mainstream,” Carmouche said. “She was willing to go out and go to all the TV networks. Her whole life was her fight career. And she was able to just dive into that. My life wasn’t that. So I don’t know that I would have brought it into the mainstream the way that she would have. I think the great thing that she did was to be able to make herself so approachable to the media and to all of her fans. And me being such a reserved, introverted person, I don’t think I would have done it the same way.

“It would have been much different. I’m not a trash-talker, so that would have been very different. How I brought this sport into everything — I would have been pushing for 125 much earlier in my fight career. But even then, there wasn’t a 125 division really anywhere at that time. So, of course I play out how different it would have been. I think it would have been a completely different sport.”

Then, there were the lessons that were learned and applied that made Carmouche a better fighter. The type of fighter, in fact, who was able to rebuild her path toward UFC gold. And, as she prepares to meet Shevchenko at Antel Arena in Montevideo, Uruguay, in Saturday’s UFC on ESPN+ 14 headliner, the 35-year-old challenger knows that’s no small feat.

“Now it’s become this thing where it’s like, yeah, it is history, and I was part of it,” she said. “It helped shape who I am as a fighter. And whether or not it was a win or it was a loss, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today if it hadn’t happened.

“And the reality is — her career, (Rousey) hung up her gloves. I didn’t. I’m still here. I’m still writing my history. And that says something.”

In many ways, Carmouche’s second title stab is nothing like the first one. She’s fighting a different opponent, in a different weight class, at an entirely different point of her life.

No, really,entirelydifferent.

“The place I was at when I fought Ronda, I was barely getting by,” Carmouche said. “I mean, I remember my head coach gave me money to help me buy groceries just to make sure that I had enough food to get to the fight. And constantly trying to make sure that I had enough gas to get here and there. I was barely getting by for that Ronda fight. Now, I know I’m in a different position being that I have treated my whole career differently and been much more responsible and it’s — even with the business side of things, that’s been my fallback, to be able to help give me the support and the structure I need to be able to pursue this career.


“And the other thing I wasn’t able to do before is — even if I wanted to, in the Ronda fight, if I wanted to take three months off to prepare and just be devoted to that fight camp, there is no possible way anything would have allowed me to do that. Now I’ve been able to focus and take the time off because I’ve a great support system, not only at home but at the gym, that was able to take over the business for me just so that I can just focus on training, and recovering and being as healthy as possible. That’s not something that was happening before.”

Life after Rousey: What changed and what hasn’t between Liz Carmouche’s 2 UFC title shots (1)

Now in her 10th fight and sixth year in the UFC, Liz Carmouch can maintain distraction-free training camps. (Kyle Terada / USA Today)

The promotional and divisional scenarios she’s walking into are also not the same. The UFC, then welcoming its first female fighters, now has four different women’s weight divisions. Despite her Olympic accolades and her unbeaten record, which included two title fights in Strikeforce, Rousey was then less than two years into her pro MMA career. She was still more of a possibility; Shevchenko heads into what will be her 21st pro MMA bout as an undeniable reality.

Interestingly enough, though, that’s also what gives it all a familiar ring.

See, there’s a reason why Carmouche isn’t offended when she hears that she was brought in to play a supporting role in the Rousey show. She knew that already. She knows that she wasn’t the one expected to win then and, now, the lopsided odds tell her a similar story. The script isn’t exactly the same, given the different players and different timeline, but Carmouche knows that, the way that it is currently written, it doesn’t end well for her against 13-1 favorite Shevchenko.

Again, though, it boils down to perspective. If Carmouche once sort of resented the party-pooper role, she has now learned to embrace it.

“I’m constantly brought in as the person to build someone else’s career,” she said. “And I love now being the person that destroys that image that they have. Where at that time, maybe I wasn’t ready for it. I think I had a lot of doubts in my mind. That’s not the case anymore. Now, I’m like, ‘Oh, you want to bring me in as an underdog? Great. Let me show you what an underdog can do. And let me change the whole dynamic and change the whole story for you and rewrite your plan.’

“Now, it’s a fun opportunity for me. Then, it was difficult. I didn’t know where I was at. Now, it’s something that I look forward to, like, ‘Please, (let me be) brought in as the underdog,’ because the roof is the limit at that point. When you’re brought in and you have that expectation of winning — if you don’t (win), you have so far to fall. When I’m brought in with the expectation of losing, any progress that I make, any ground that I cover is phenomenal and I’ve done so much. It makes my job that much easier.”


Granted, it’s not like it’s unreasonable for Shevchenko to be a favorite going into any flyweight bout. After moving down from the 135-pound division, “Bullet” went on to demolish Priscila Cachoeira en route to a merciful second-round submission stoppage, dominate Joanna Jedrzejczyk to take the title, and starch Jessica Eye with a blistering head kick to defend it.

But just because Shevchenko isn’t beaten often doesn’t mean that she can’t be beaten at all. Champ-champ Amanda Nunes, for instance, has shown that twice. More to the point here, though, is that Carmouche has also shown it. The circ*mstances of her unusual 2010 meeting with Shevchenko can be better understood in this full dive by ESPN, but bottom line is that Carmouche won, via second-round TKO, in what remains the sole stoppage loss of the champ’s career.

Of course, there’s only so much that a nine-year-old fight can tell you. Time changes things. Experience changes things. The stage changes things. But the way that result sits on both their records can’t be changed. And, the way Carmouche sees it, that’s one point in her favor already.

“That will constantly be in her head,” Carmouche said. “So I think there’s always going to be that doubt, that psychological advantage that I have going into it. And the fact that I fought her so many years ago and had all these years to study — unlike other people, who are only now studying her, I’ve been studying her. So I have been watching and looking for holes in her game this entire time and been able to put together a great game plan and take advantage of them.”

For Carmouche, both meetings with Shevchenko have come with twists. Back in 2010, she actually went to Concho, Okla., expecting to fight Valentina’s sister, fellow UFC fighter Antonina. Carmouche says she went as far as to sign a contract to that effect, and even received a poster with Antonina on it, before being told differently. Carmouche had never so much as sparred a southpaw before, but on a few days’ notice, she found out she was fighting one.

Life after Rousey: What changed and what hasn’t between Liz Carmouche’s 2 UFC title shots (2)

Valentina Shevchenko, left, lost to Liz Carmouche in 2010, but in Saturday’s rematch, the UFC women’s flyweight champion is a 13-1 favorite at some sports books. (Alexandre Schneider / Zuffa)

Cut to 2019 and in comes another Shevchenko-related surprise. Carmouche was one month away from a UFC on ESPN 4 meeting with Roxanne Modafferi when she got the title call. And, of course, going from a three-round meeting in San Antonio to a five-round effort in Uruguay wouldn’t stop Carmouche from answering it.

“When I fought Marloes Coenen, I did that on a nine- or 10-day notice, to fight for the title on Strikeforce,” Carmouche said. “That became how I set up my whole career — I would take last-minute fights. I would have opponent changes on a whim and just have to evolve. And that was one thing that was actually kind of exciting. That I was enjoying. It was like, ‘Hey, I can very well be scheduled to fight this person, show up to fight and get a completely different opponent.’


“Or, like this, where I was scheduled to fight Roxanne, and here I am two months into my fight camp, I’m about to go out for that fight, and they’re like, ‘By the way, do you want to fight for the title instead, in a whole different country?’ I’m like, ‘Yes, I do. I’m used to this. Let’s do this.’ That’s just something that I’ve grown accustomed to and I enjoy, honestly, kind of having those — what for most people would be wrenches thrown into the game, for me it’s just part of the wheels turning.”

Carmouche is so committed to that laissez-faire mindset, in fact, that she stays away from predictions. “I don’t want to set myself to be constricted into one idea,” she said, and that goes both for how she approaches her career (as in whether she’ll fight for another five, three or two years) and her fights (as in whether they’ll end in 12 seconds or 15 minutes, via a quick rear-naked choke or a hard-fought decision).

Carmouche doesn’t know, or care to guess, when or how she’ll beat Shevchenko on Saturday. But there are some parts of it that she dares to visualize. Like the belt being placed around her waist. Her hands in the air.

“Walking out of there,” Carmouche said, “with a huge smile on my face.”

(Top photo of Liz Carmouche and Ronda Rousey: Josh Hedges / Zuffa)

Life after Rousey: What changed and what hasn’t between Liz Carmouche’s 2 UFC title shots (2024)
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