Dan Wetzel:

UFC 157: Rousey focused on history, not trash-talking Carmouche

The SportsXchange

TORRANCE, Calif. -- If you don't already know the name Ronda Rousey, you probably will before the weekend is out.

The 2008 Olympic judo bronze medalist from Venice, Calif. has singlehandedly brought women's mixed martial arts into the mainstream.

The 26-year-old Rousey is a sex symbol, knows it and isn't afraid to flaunt it. Nor is she afraid to talk trash. And, oh yeah, she can get the job done when the bell rings: All nine of her professional and amateur MMA fights have ended in the first round via armbar submission.

Add up all those elements and you get a superstar package, one which has pushed Rousey onto the sport's biggest stage, the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Amid an all-out media blitz, Rousey will defend her women's bantamweight title in the main event of UFC 157 against Liz Carmouche at the Honda Center in Anaheim in the first women's bout in the near-two-decade history of the company.

"It's a fight," Rousey said. "If I win a fight as quickly and efficiently as possible without taking any damage than that's the best way to try to win. I'm just going to treat this like any other fight."

For years, outspoken UFC president Dana White resisted the notion of adding women to the company's stable of fighters. Essentially, White believed there wasn't enough elite talent to fill a big-league roster, with fights often long on mismatches and short on memorable bouts.

Women's MMA enjoyed an initial popularity surge in 2008-09, when Gina Carano made her name in several nationally televised non-UFC fights. But Carano was a novelty whose profile was carefully built against hand-picked opponents, and she left the sport after her first career loss, a beating at the hands of Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos in Aug. 2009.

But the women's side of the sport experienced a renaissance in 2012, with Rousey leading the charge. While Rousey started making waves as Strikeforce champion, the all-female Invicta Fighting Championship promotion became a cult phenomenon, staging successful fight cards which demonstrated the depth of the competition at bantamweight, Rousey's chosen weight class. With the likes of Rousey, former Strikeforce champions Miesha Tate and Sarah Kaufman, and 2004 Olympic wrestling medalist Sara McMann, among others, there's enough depth at 135 pounds to string together a series of competitive matchups.

Rousey earned notice outside of MMA's bubble-like subculture, as she was featured on the cover of ESPN the Magazine and made appearances on shows including "The Tonight Show." Rousey's Aug. 18 win over Kaufman was the highest-rated MMA fight on premium cable network Showtime in 2012.

The Kaufman fight convinced White to make the move into women's MMA. When Strikeforce, a company owned by the UFC's parent corporation, was folded, Rousey was named inaugural UFC women's bantamweight champ.

"It takes a certain type of person, not just personality, but a certain type of fighter to get people interested and get people excited about women's fighting, period," White said. "Or women's sports in general. Women's basketball, women's soccer, women's whatever it is, it takes a certain type of person to appeal to everyone, to make them all come and watch, and she's got it."

Which leads us to Rousey's opponent on Saturday night, Carmouche. A San Diego resident, the openly lesbian Carmouche has her own intriguing life story. Raised off-base in a military family in Okinawa, Japan, Carmouche went on to serve three tours of duty with the Marines in the Iraq War. She did so while closeted under the military's old "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," policy.

But since leaving the military, Carmouche, who turned 29 on Tuesday, has become the highest-profile gay fighter in a rough-and-tumble, testosterone-fueled business.

Carmouche openly campaigned for a fight with Rousey, getting her fans to bombard White on Twitter until he relented. Now that she has the fight she wanted, she has to deliver. Carmouche is 7-2 in her career, with her losses coming to former champions Kaufmann and Marloes Coenen. Carmouche knows she's the underdog.

"The pressure isn't on me, the pressure's on Ronda," Carmouche said. "It's on her to defend the title and do a lot more media than I'm being asked to do, so the attention is mostly on her. I'm coming in as the underdog and no one really expects anything out of me."

For her part, Rousey, up until this point, has spared Carmouche the trash talk.

"Because it's a first-time event, because it's the first time for women to fight on a UFC card, and she's the first openly gay fighter, there doesn't need to be any squabbling or argument," Rousey said. "It's an extraordinarily positive thing, we don't need an argument to push it. It sells itself. It's history."
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