What it's like to fight Ronda Rousey
People think Liz Carmouche is retired.
It's been two years since Carmouche fought Ronda Rousey in the first female championship fight in UFC history and, apparently, there are some who think she's done literally nothing since.
Carmouche has been a professional fighter since 2010 and has appeared in 15 fights. She's still active and has fought four times since the Rousey loss. Overwhelmingly, though, conversations about her career tend to revolve around that one fight, which lasted less than five minutes.
"People come up to me and say, 'Your fight was amazing,'" Carmouche says. "I'm like, 'I'm going to assume I know which fight you're talking about. Ronda Rousey?'
"I've had people come up and ask me if I'm retired and why I'm not fighting anymore. I'm like, 'That Rousey fight wasn't even one of my best performances, but that's the only one you know?' At the same time, the fact that fight was important enough to pop into their mind at all is amazing to me."
Challenging Rousey (12-0) in a cage -- the world-famous Hollywood star, Olympic medalist, UFC champion -- has to be considered one of the unique experiences right now in professional sports.
Every challenger's experience is different, of course, but it generally seems to consist of an intense crash course in judo amid a firestorm of media requests, all of which culminates in a fight that lasts several minutes (if they're lucky) -- which strangers then use to identify them for all time. Sprinkled in are constant less-than-subtle reminders of their inevitable failure.
But they do get a chance to make history.
While the world discusses what Holly Holm, the latest Rousey challenger, will walk into at UFC 193 this weekend in Melbourne, Australia, only 14 women (including Rousey's professional and amateur career) can say they really know.
ESPN spoke to several of them in order to get even a faint idea of what that experience is like and how it has (or has not) changed over time.
Autumn King (Nov. 12, 2010: Tuff-N-Uff Future Stars, lost via armbar :57 R1): The first time I heard about her, a promotion in California offered me a fight but wouldn't tell me the girl's name. They just said she had no fights. I thought that was weird because I already had four fights but I said, "OK, whatever." When they finally told me her name, I cyberstalked her like I do all my opponents and was like, "Hey, this girl's got a Wikipedia page! Little to no experience my ass, she's an Olympian!" I called the promotion and said I was willing to take the fight but not on short notice. So, that didn't pan out, but I wanted to fight her. When she showed up to our fight, I had never seen a promotion treat anybody the way they treated her. For example, the day of the weigh-in, we just went immediately to the front of the line. Usually you wait around. I was like, "Hmm, this is different."
Charmaine Tweet (June 17, 2011: HKFC, lost via armbar :49 R1): We were signed to fight, but Gina Carano had not gotten medically cleared for a fight in Strikeforce, and Ronda had been offered a chance to replace her. Ronda was calling me and my husband, who is my manager, the week prior to our fight, and let me tell you, Ronda doesn't like to be told no. I said, "I'm not letting you out of the contract. I don't care if Strikeforce is knocking." So, we really had a lot of drama leading up to our fight. I said, "Listen, she's a fast-rising star. What happens if I beat her? Who gets the Strikeforce contract then?" She put a post on Facebook that people should call my manager and tell him what they think of him. I don't think she actually gave away my number though, which was good.
Sarah Kaufman (Aug. 18, 2012: Strikeforce, lost via armbar :54 R1): It was already the Ronda show when I fought her. The way her fight against Miesha Tate went, I think (UFC president) Dana White was already looking over at her, which meant it had to be the Ronda show. During the promotions for that fight, I was told multiple times, "This is the Ronda show; you're just the person on the other side." It was a little rough. For the Showtime promo, they put us in these disgustingly weird Playtex suits. The idea was, OK, Ronda is this badass chick in all black and I'm this other girl in white. So, I had to put on this ridiculous-looking suit from some sex store that was three sizes too small. From that point it was like, "Ronda is so beautiful and then there's you." You know what's happening.
Cat Zingano (Feb. 28, 2015: UFC 184, lost via armbar :14 R1): The media attention was tough a couple weeks out from the fight. I tend to be a little more volatile during that time and there were points where it said, "I just want to focus on improving as an athlete." I'm hitting pads and I see a little GoPro camera inching towards me out of the corner of my eye. People are asking me to redo something so they can film it. It was a little distracting, but I tried to think of it as a good thing.
King: She was smart. She wouldn't look at me at all. She was really new to MMA, and I don't think she was confident with punching at all -- but you could tell she was confident about her judo. I think that's why she was weary of looking at me. She wanted to be in her own mental thing. In her mind, she needed to be focused on her judo, and if you look at someone in the eye and know they're about to punch you in the face, there's a big difference between that and being in a judo match, where you know they can't hit you.
Zingano: When I've fought other girls, I look into their eyes, their breathing and the way they move, and a lot of times I get a sense they're pushing themselves to be alpha. What I got from Ronda was an actual warrior mode, like you're exposing your heart and putting yourself into a position of vulnerability -- and at the same time, you have complete confidence. I thought it was really interesting, she was the first person that I felt was on the same level as me when it came to that. There was nothing false in it.
Kaufman: I think if there was any pressure on me at that time, it was to not let her armbar me because she had done it to all these people that's ridiculous and I'm too good for that. You know what she's doing, so don't let her do it. That kind of thing. And that way of thinking almost lets it happen. I had a game plan of how to win, but that was in my head so much I just wanted to counter what she was doing and if you give up those positions, you're going to lose.
Carmouche (Feb. 23, 2013: UFC 157. lost via armbar 4:49 R1): Of course, there was training for armbars and counters to the judo throws. I'm one of her only opponents that she didn't take down. When it came to me going down, it was her shaking me off from her back. So, that's something I did correctly. When I think about the choke I had on her, it's certainly in my mind, but if it were meant to be it would have happened.
Zingano: The goal at hand is to make history. Personally, I decided to go out and try something that hadn't been done before. If anyone knew how to beat Ronda, they would have done it by now. People have tried different approaches. My approach was, "OK, no one has ever gone at her, guns blazing, before." Obviously, it didn't work out. That approach can be checked off the list, I guess.
Sara McMann (Feb. 22, 2014: UFC 170, lost via TKO 1:06 R1): When I was out there, directly before the fight, I've never had such a sense of, "this is where I'm supposed to be." There was a peacefulness of like, being in the right place at the right time in my life. So, I'm happy about it. I'm obviously not happy about the outcome, but it's never too late to get a fresh start on that.
Kaufman: She just starts pure 100. She's mentally just on, terrified and fighting for her life when the bell starts. I wasn't prepared for that -- even though, I was 100 percent prepared for that, if that makes sense? It's almost inexplicable. You just don't think she can start that fast. I mean, you know she starts fast, but you're in there saying, "I'm ready. My eyes are open. I'm warmed up." But even then, it's like, "Oh, there she goes."
Carmouche: The first thing I think about is how little amount of time I had left on the clock. I had no idea there was 10 seconds left in the round. Had I known, I probably would have let my arm snap. Realistically, it was the best decision though. I saw video of it and it was hyperextended.
King: To me, her reactionary times felt as quick as the guys at our pro practice. She was so fast. I trained at Team Quest and I probably only felt an armbar go that fast once before.
Tweet: I have to give her credit in the fight, but not all the credit. I got up from her first takedown. It didn't feel that strong to me. The second judo throw that put me down, though, it was kind of, "Oh. Well, here we are." Then I did something very stupid that all rookies do. When she started punching me, I put my arm straight up to block her, which was basically, "here, let me gift wrap this for you."
McMann: What impresses me is how fast she finishes people. She's going for every chance and she's setting a pace that is really hard for people to maintain. She knows she doesn't have to set it for 25 minutes because she's finishing people.
King: I think about what would have happened even if I had made it out of the first round. I don't think I would have beat her, but I think I would have knocked her around in the standup a little. I would have been infamous just for doing that. Some people, that's all they see is that I fought Ronda Rousey but I could see how it could define people more so, now. I got lucky. I fought the Ronda that didn't know how to punch, so that's who she'll always be in my head. For the girls now, she's become so big, it defines their careers.
Tweet: I have thought about would have happened if I had won and honestly, as much as I hate to say it, that loss was what needed to happen. She needed to continue going down her path for our sport to become what it has become. If I had beaten her, who knows if women would have been in the UFC today. It's probably a good thing I lost to her.
Carmouche: Sometimes I do feel like I'm just another one of her opponents, but I've heard so many stories and met so many people that I wouldn't have otherwise. I've had people tell me our fight was in their textbook -- that's really when it puts things in perspective.
Zingano: Everywhere I go, people recognize me in seconds and ask, "When are you fighting Ronda again?" It would be worth it to fight her again just to stop that. It becomes your definition. When you look back on my history as an athlete and as a human, there are all these things I've accomplished that I would say define me so much more than 14 seconds, but who am I to say anything? Until I fix that, that's my reality, you know? What can I do about it?
Kaufman: A lot of people will come up and say, "Hey, cool you fought Ronda" and I'm like, "Yeah but I didn't do well." That's a hard thing because people see it as, well, the fact you even stepped in the cage with her is cool, which takes away from what I do in the sport. People are like, "don't feel bad, it's Ronda." Well, I think I can be the best in the world, so that's kind of insulting. It's almost like a pat on the back, you joined a kid's softball team and lost, but at least you swung the bat! I don't know if women would be in the UFC right now though, honestly, if I had beaten Ronda. And that's kind of a knock on myself but I don't think we'd be where we are. So, I look at is I took a sacrifice for the better good of women's mixed martial arts.