Liz (Girlrilla) Carmouche has already made history as the first openly gay fighter in the UFC. Now the former U.S. marine is set to do it again as she faces Brazilian Jessica Andrade in the first bout between openly lesbian fighters in the mixed martial arts organization.
Carmouche still can’t quite believe it is her in the spotlight as pioneer.
“I never thought after being so closeted in the marine corps to being now in the UFC that I would ever be that person, let along be somebody who could be open or be somebody that’s pioneering and knocking down doors,” said Carmouche, who fights Andrade (9-2) on Saturday’s televised UFC card at KeyArena.
“So I’m just embracing every moment and just grateful that it is happening.”
Andrade, a pint-sized fighter with a big smile, says she hopes she is helping open the door for others to be open about who they are and how they feel.
“In the end, whatever your sexual orientation, it doesn’t affect how you work, who you are or what you do,” Andrade said through an interpreter.
She too is enjoying the moment as she becomes the first Brazilian woman to fight in the UFC. Thanks to a Seattle shopping expedition, she was sporting brand new red Air Jordans on Thursday. “Kid size,” explained the interpreter.
Carmouche (7-3) was thrown in the spotlight in February when she challenged bantamweight champion (Rowdy) Ronda Rousey at UFC 157. Carmouche was submitted in the first round but not before dragging Rousey into some deep water at the Honda Center in Anaheim.
The 29-year-old Carmouche is hard not to root for. While the “UFC Primetime” TV show in advance of the fight showed Rousey commuting in a luxury car, Carmouche was driving a beater with a cracked windshield. A furniture manufacturer, having seen her admit she couldn’t afford a kitchen table, reached out to offer her a freebie.
Her life remains the same, but has changed significantly on one front.
While she still answers the phone at the San Diego Combat Academy, she reports that quick trips to the supermarket or corner store are a thing of the past.
Carmouche’s story has touched a nerve, well beyond her sexual orientation.
“It never turns into anything quick, it turns into something longer,” she said. “Getting to hear people’s stories, getting to hear the way I impacted people’s lives. Them just wanting to talk to me and interact.”
While she admits it sometimes plays havoc with her schedule, she says she relishes the attention.
“Other days, getting to hear that I could actually influence people’s lives, that they have a role model now to look up to, that just blows my mind,” she said.
The five-foot-six Carmouche says the ripple effect of her title fight has been seen at her gym.
“When we started off, I had one other consistent teammate. And now we have 10 women that want to fight. That’s a huge difference.”
She says it has upped her game, helping her train with a variety of talented women.
Kids have also told her they see her as a role model. “That’s just changed my life for the better,” she said.
“I never thought I’d be that person but I accept it with open arms,” she added.
She feels no pressure from that role, saying she walks the proper path. She rarely drinks and says if she goes out at night, she does so responsibly. She doesn’t do drugs and takes care of her body.
Carmouche has been invited to appear in several Pride parades, attend openings of LGBT centres and speak to kids.
She says she believes there will be a day when her sexual orientation will no longer be an issue, pointing to the advancement of gay marriage and the repealing of discriminatory laws.
“I do see that day is coming,” she said. “But just like you still have racism now and you still have just people that are ignorant to everything, it’s still going to be there and I don’t think that’s going to go away.”
Carmouche was originally slated to face Miesha Tate in Seattle but Tate was shifted to face Rousey in the co-main event of UFC 168 on Dec. 28 in Las Vegas. Rousey and Tate will set up their rematch — Rousey won by first-round submission in Strikeforce in March 2012 — by serving as rival coaches on “The Ultimate Fighter” TV show.
“I am bummed out,” Carmouche said of missing out on facing Tate. “I’m grateful that the UFC still kept the fight. . . . I’m still having the opportunity to fight. I wish it could have been Miesha but I’m glad I’m still in the UFC fighting.”
Andrade was in the kitchen back home in Brazil, cooking a dinner of pasta and sausage when her coach showed up at the door with news that the UFC had called.
For the 21-year-old Andrade, it’s her first fight in the U.S. But she is no shrinking violet, having fought in Russia last time out. Plus she fought seven times in 2012.
“I’m ready,” she said through an interpreter. “I know what to do.”
Listed generously at five foot three, Andrade’s Brazilian nickname “Bate Estaca” means piledriver — she got it after being disqualified for trying the illegal move during an early Brazilian jiu-jitsu competition. The fourth-youngest fighter in the UFC, she has won seven of her last eight fights.
“She may be short but she packs a good punch,” said Carmouche.