Having just reported on mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter Amanda Nunes becoming the first openly gay UFC champion yesterday, Compete went into its archives for TBT. Here is a story we did on the first openly gay MMA fighter back in 2013 – Liz Carmouche, affectionately known as the Girl-rilla. She came out a month before MMA fighter Fallen Fox. Enjoy!
From February 2013
Make way for Liz Carmouche, the Girl-rilla
by Harry Andrew
On February 23rd in Anaheim, California, history will be made when the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) holds its first-ever women’s fight in the UFC 157 as the main event. Matched in this inaugural women’s championship competition will be newly-crowned UFC Women’s Bantamweight (135 pounds) Champion Ronda Rousey and her challenger, Liz Carmouche, the first openly gay athlete in MMA (Mixed Martial Arts). Unlike WNBA, WTA and other women’s sports leagues, the UFC women’s division takes place on the same events as the men.
But history is being made twice on the 23rd. More than simply being about two women on the fight card for the first time, the most exciting fact is Carmouche’s status as the first openly gay fighter in MMA. There’s lots of buzz in the UFC community over the match, mainly because she wasn’t high on the UFC’s list when they were looking for an opponent for Rousey’s first title defense. Although other fighters were contacted, they all turned the fight down – all that is except Carmouche who had been trying hard to get a match with Rousey.
She’s not concerned about being ready for this fight, though. While most opponents don’t start training until a fight has been offered, she says she’s been training for it since Rousey won the title. With some big fight experience to her credit (she challenged for the Strikeforce belt against Marloes Coenen and lost), Carmouche’s MMA pro record lists seven wins and two losses – the feeling is that she is as ready as anyone else who has stepped into the cage with Rousey.
What’s really been getting as much or maybe more attention beyond the UFC community has been Carmouche’s sexuality and it’s caused her to adjust her routine. All the attention around her coming out is something she didn’t ask for but she’s no more interested in backing away from that attention than she is from backing away from a fight. She has said that “I didn’t expect the role that I was going to take with the homosexual community and leading it forward, but I’m certainly accepting it and hoping I can be an advocate.”
Known as “The Girl-rilla,” she was always athletic – always a little faster and stronger than the other kids – she was always getting into trouble by playing too rough with the boys during soccer matches. She grew up to become a U.S. Marine, serving in the Corps. for five years from 2004-2009. Rising to the rank of Sergeant, she completed three tours of duty in Iraq as an electrical engineer working on helicopters. Carmouche says, “Becoming a Marine allowed me to serve my country and challenge myself. I’ve always been a physical type of person.”
Serving in the military during the days of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Carmouche says that she had to hide her sexuality from even her closest friends. She shared the story of Kim, her best friend in the Marines. One day in Iraq “Kim said that homosexuals in the forces should be put on the front line because they deserve to die. This was my best friend talking. I knew then I couldn’t come out to anyone.”
She continued to say that when she left the Marines, “I called Kim and let her know – ‘Hey, I’m one of those people you wanted killed.’ I was very blunt about how she’d made me feel … and she did a total 180. Kim told me she loved me and would never, ever want to see me get hurt. She said the way she grew up, she’d never met a gay person and didn’t know what she was talking about.”
Carmouche recounts that to this day, Kim “thanks me for changing her views on gay people and now says she can’t imagine why she was ever homophobic.” It was this experience in addition to the support of her family, including her long-time partner, Elisa (a boxer in her own right), that encouraged her to come out as the first openly gay fighter in MMA.
After leaving the Marines, Carmouche landed in San Diego and started looking for a sport that would provide an outlet for her love of physical competition. She decided to try her hand (and all the rest of her body) at MMA and “The first time I sparred, I got a bloody nose and I was hooked,” she said. “I thought this is awesome! This is for me!”
As she trains for her professional career in MMA, she also works as a professional trainer, especially loving her work with the kids. Referring to her opponent in her upcoming fight, Carmouche says that “Rhonda and me [sic] are making history as the first women’s fight in the UFC. But first and foremost in MMA, I want to be the first female fighter to win a UFC championship inside the Octagon.”
She has never made a secret of her sexuality and by and large, the MMA community and fans have been supportive. Carmouche, the Girl-rilla, has started to call her growing group of fans “the Lizbians.” She says that “When I think about it, it is cool being the first openly gay athlete in the sport and in the UFC. And I hope I can set a good example of myself. I’m proud of who I am and of sharing my life and having full support with a great person and my family.”
When asked if there was anything she wanted to share with Compete readers, Carmouche was eager to have you know about the wonderful diversity within MMA. She says that while many people not familiar with the sport think all MMA fighters are “meatheads,” that’s not true. She says that although they represent everything from Ph.D.s to street people, in the end they are all true athletes.
We wish you well in both your upcoming fight and your MMA career – you go, Girl-rilla!
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