COMMENTARY | "Never," was all UFC president Dana White had to say when asked about the possibility of women joining the ranks of the world's premiere MMA organization back in 2011.
A lot has changed since then.
On Feb. 23, Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche will square up inside the Octagon at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. The two will fight for the UFC's women's bantamweight title which was awarded to Rousey during a "UFC on Fox 5" pre-fight press conference.
Carmouche (8-2, 5 KOs) is more experienced than Rousey (6-0, 6 first round submissions via armbar) inside the cage, but it's the latter who is recognized around the world as the face of women's MMA. With only six professional fights, Rousey has thrust herself into stardom, which -- unfortunately -- also means lots of added pressure.
"I don't mind having that kind of pressure on me," Rousey said during a conversation with ESPN.com. "I feel that the more pressure there is, the more I fight above myself. I like to pretend like it's going to be the end of the world, the end of the world depends on whether or not I win the fight, because it is the end of the world for me."
The UFC has put a lot of effort into marketing Rousey, but the judoka also needs to continue dominating her opponents for the promotion's experiment to work. A single mistake and the UFC might have to find a new face of women's MMA.
"I'm fighting to win, and I'm fighting to keep women in UFC," Rousey added. "And I'm not entertaining the idea about what will happen if I lose because I'm not going to lose."
Rousey seems to handle the added stresses well, and she doesn't seem like the type to underestimate her opponents. She's already proven her skills are legit with her dominant performances fighting under the Strikeforce banner, capturing the promotion's women's bantamweight title, so she clearly has all the tools needed to live up to -- and even exceed -- the high expectations placed on her.
That doesn't mean it's wise to count Carmouche out.
"Girl-Rilla" is a game opponent, and her superior physical strength could prove to be problematic for Rousey. Like Ronda, Carmouche is a proficient finisher, with seven of her eight wins as a professional MMA fighter coming via knockout or submission. Liz also a solid striker and that combined with her strength makes her a decent matchup for Rousey.
Carmouche isn't getting a lot of respect heading into her UFC 157 encounter against "Rowdy," with oddsmakers making the latter a 12-1 favorite.
Liz has nothing to lose when she squares up against Rousey. The disdain she's received from MMA fans and media alike has probably put a big chip on her shoulder, giving her extra motivation to shock the world on Feb. 23.
If she's able to keep Ronda at a distance with her striking, use her strength to avoid the clinch, and force a standup encounter, a very competitive fight should break out at UFC 157.
"I was brought in as the underdog because they think that she's going to win and I'm okay with that," Carmouche said during the first episode of 'UFC 157 Primetime.' I like having people think that. I absolutely think I'm going to spoil the UFC's plans."
Regardless of who emerges as the first legit Ultimate Fighting Championship women's bantamweight champ at UFC 157 (I don't count an awarded title as a real accomplishment and neither does Rousey), it should be a very entertaining bout.
More from the Yahoo! Contributor Network:
- Mixed Martial Arts
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- Liz Carmouche