There will be no cooperation from Liz Carmouche on Feb. 23 at UFC 157 in Anaheim, Calif.
She will not walk into the cage, extend her arm and allow bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey to lock onto it. The six previous pro fighters who faced the arm-bar submission expert played that game -- Carmouche won’t.
Carmouche has something a little different up her sleeve: She intends to put up a fight.
Carmouche would be wise to keep the fight standing, which would make it difficult for Rousey to grab an arm. But she isn’t afraid to fight Rousey, even if they go to the ground. If this fight had taken place in 2010 or 2011, Rousey would have won in a cakewalk. Carmouche was a very green fighter back then, physically and mentally. Not so in 2013.
“I’ve changed significantly as a fighter,” Carmouche told ESPN.com. “With each fight, I have adapted and grown and evolved into a better fighter and person. I’m constantly evolving, and you can see that as each fight progresses.
“I don’t just focus on one form and one art. I make sure that I’m giving all my energy to everything equally. As a result, each part grows: my jiu-jitsu’s grown, my judo’s grown, my wrestling, my boxing, my Muay Thai, you name it; everything’s improved.
“I’m going into this fight to become champion. If not, I wouldn’t be going into it.”
For those who haven’t followed Carmouche closely the past couple of years, it is easy to dismiss her. She fought then-Strikeforce bantamweight champion Marloes Coenen on March 5, 2011, for the title and came up short -- and Rousey is regarded as a much better fighter today than Coenen was two years ago.
But you’d have an inaccurate understanding of what took place that evening at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, if you simply looked at the bout result and concluded Carmouche couldn’t hang with the best 135-pound fighter at that time.
The fact is that Carmouche more than held her own against Coenen. She was beating the champion for much of the fight before making a defensive error and got submitted at 1:29 of the fourth round.
That loss changed Carmouche’s perspective on being a professional fighter.
“I learned from that experience,” Carmouche said. “When I faced Coenen it was on very short notice, and up to that point, I doubted if I really belonged in Strikeforce, if I deserved to be ranked among the top women like Marloes Coenen and Sarah Kaufman.
“During that fight, while I did lose it, I dominated for four rounds up until I made a mistake that cost me. That fight gave me the confidence I needed to keep going -- and I’m going to use that confidence in this fight as well.”
The mistake Carmouche made against Coenen was getting caught in a triangle choke. She has not made that mistake again.
And while she’d come up short in her next outing -- a unanimous decision loss to Kaufman in June 2011 -- Carmouche was no longer questioning her abilities or standing as a fighter.
She immediately returned to the gym and worked on fine-tuning her skill set. No stone was left unturned -- every aspect of her game received full attention; many alterations have been made.
Whether standing or on the ground, Carmouche is now a force to be reckoned with.
Carmouche (8-2) has won two fights in a row -- one by TKO, the other by submission. She likes the type of fighter she’s developed into and won’t be lacking confidence on Feb. 23, despite being given little chance of leaving the cage victorious.
There will be many people rooting for Carmouche -- some folks just don’t like all the hype Rousey is receiving. Few, however, expect her to pull off the monumental upset.
But Carmouche wouldn’t have it any other way. She has been counted out before a fight so often that she fully embraces the underdog role. She relishes the thought of proving the doubters wrong.
“Everybody does have a lot of confidence in Ronda, and they’re holding her up to high esteem because of that,” Carmouche said. “I also think people doubt me.
“But every single time that people doubt me, I step up to the plate and show them that they are wrong, and I’m going to do the same in this fight with Ronda.”
Rousey (6-0) has been such a dominant fighter in her brief professional career, it’s appropriate that she’s listed as a heavy favorite. But Carmouche should not be fully counted out, either.
She has improved too much in all areas as a fighter to be taken lightly. Carmouche plans to make life in the cage uneasy for Rousey, and that’s all fight fans can reasonably ask for.