Liz Carmouche is not a can. She is a human being with motivation and drive and a world of dreams that can be realized one weekend late in February. But what happens if she realizes her dreams and beats Ronda Rousey at UFC 157?
What, in this game of four-ounce gloves and four-leaf clovers, happens then?
The vanguards of women's MMA are being stacked up against each other in the old Washington Generals/Harlem Globetrotters dynamic. No, it's not fixed or choreographed, but it's a foregone conclusion that Rousey wins this historical first women's title fight on February 23. Isn't it? It has to be.
There would be no women's MMA in the UFC if Rousey didn't catch Dana White's eye. Her mere arm-barring presence made up for all the red flags that kept it out so long -- namely, the "lack of divisional depth" that White talked about.
Of course, that was all BR (Before Ronda). Now, the depth of one transcendent fighter is enough to fill out a division. It's the wide world of Rousey, and then everybody else. White has made no secret that Rousey is the reason.
That's why it isn't that Carmouche is a can -- it's that they're all aluminum product. Miesha Tate (whom she's already beat), Sara McMann (who is in the on-deck circle) and even Cris "Cyborg" Santos, who is jettisoning herself from the UFC (and can't/won't make 135 pound besides). All of them. This is Rousey's domain. It was her patent. The future of women's MMA is Rousey's burden in the present tense. The pressure is only to win. And preferably to collect a couple more arms along the way, like she's done a million times before (or six, to be exact).
Make no mistake, this is boom or bust.
And if she doesn't win? Well, Seth Petruzelli becomes the second greatest party pooper of all time.
Should Carmouche get her arm raised in Anaheim, this whole thing becomes a Jenga proposition. Rousey, who White admires for being "so nasty, so mean" -- who has broken into larger and more varied media realms than Georges St-Pierre, Anderson Silva and Chuck Liddell combined -- would then slip into more pedestrian ranks. The iconoclast who is potentially inspiring thousands of young girls to give MMA a chance would get hung up in "potentially". I've written in here before that Rousey is the Royce Gracie of WMMA. She's the example of broader possibility.
I still believe that.
But how fast a loss leads the chorus to chants of "you've been exposed", even for those with Olympic medals in judo. How fast those six victories would seem incomplete if upended by a single loss. How shaky the idea of women's MMA in the UFC becomes overnight. How fast the eggs would topple out of that single basket.
And if this is all experimentation, you'd have to wonder how long the experiment goes on -- even with the signings of Tate, Cat Zingano and others to fill in the inaugural bantamweight division.
Carmouche's Marine background is cool. It lends to her no-nonsense pluck. That she's the UFC's first openly gay fighter is admirable and perfect for narrative. She's nice, genuine, sincere -- there's not a bad thing you can say about her. But "Girl-Rilla" Carmouche as champion? What on John Moraga's green earth would the UFC do then? The most marketable fight for Carmouche at that point would be a rerun of Rousey (because surely the first fight would have been an aberration). Beyond that, it's just a bunch of jacks scattered on the linoleum. Or Jills, as it were.
In any case, it's an awful lot riding on a single fight -- this is a crossroads bout right out of the gate.
Yet it's not Carmouche's place to contemplate the aftermath. It's her job to win, even if that means dealing an indirect blow to the thing that she's fighting for. That's a unique mission. It's at least her job to go down swinging, as that's the scenario we've grown most comfortable imagining. Carmouche volunteered herself for this piece of historic martyrdom. We like that. We expect her to go down valiantly.
But man, can you imagine if things don't go to expectation?