Liz Carmouche Exceeding All Expectations

Former Marine has risen to elite contender status in just over a year

“Not even in the slightest; it might have been in my dream of dreams. I thought maybe within five years I’d be there, but not within months, that’s for sure.”

When Liz Carmouche says “there,” the word has many connotations: competing under the Strikeforce banner, following Tim Kennedy and Melvin Manhoef into the cage, facing welterweight champion Marloes Coenen, fighting on Showtime, being one half of the co-main event.

Carmouche may not have thought she’d be in any of those places this quickly, but that’s exactly where she was in March.

Filling in as a late replacement for the injured Miesha Tate, Carmouche catapulted herself from obscurity with a thrilling performance against the Dutch champion. Having only started competing ten months earlier, few gave her much of a chance. Coenen began her professional career in November 2000; Carmouche was 16.

After the first three rounds, however, it was Carmouche who was in control. She took the fight to Coenen in the second and third, attacking with fierce ground-and-pound, and battering the talented grappler in a manner no one expected. But Coenen showed her championship mettle and deft submission game, securing a triangle choke 90 seconds into the fourth frame.

Carmouche announced her presence as a legitimate contender in the welterweight division, someone with serious championship potential. Despite the defeat, the 27-year-old doesn’t look back on the fight with any sadness or disappointment; her focus remains on what’s ahead of her.

“I overview just maybe once or twice just to see [how it all played out], but for the most part, my teammates and my coaches are the ones that look over the video and help me tweak it,” Carmouche told HeavyMMA earlier this month as she prepared for her bout against Sarah Kaufman on Friday’s Strikeforce Challengers event.

“I’m always the kind of person. I can look back all day long and look at my mistakes and live in regret or I can walk forward, run forward, and just keep going, getting stronger and getting better. That’s kind of where I stand: I’m not going to look back; I’m going to look forward to the possibilities in the future.”

The next opportunity before her is a meeting with former champion Kaufman. It’s a bout that was in the works prior to Carmouche getting the call to replace Tate opposite Coenen, and one “Girl-rilla” has been looking forward to for quite some time.

“I’m very excited. Essentially when I did the tournament, she was the overall outcome. She was the person who was fighting my original tournament to face. It didn’t end up working out that way – I ended up just being the reserve bout — but essentially she’s always been the person that’s been on the outlook.”

“She is the previous champion, so I’m really looking forward to that. After first facing the current champion, it’s always nice to see who was before that, and it kind of gives me an idea of where I’m at in terms of skill set.”

Kaufman also fell victim to a Coenen submission, getting caught in an armbar back in October. She rebounded with a one-sided beating of Megumi Yabushita in her hometown of Victoria, British Columbia in April. Carmouche expects the former champion to come out swinging, something others have been afraid to do with her in the past.

“I know she’s going to be a brawl; her stand-up is really aggressive, so I’m really looking forward to that. I feel that up until this point, people may have been a little skittish; they may stand up a little bit, but they always seem to be hesitant. I know that’s not going to be the case with Sarah.

“I know her ground-and-pound is good, so it’s going to be interesting to see how we end up. I definitely think that we’re going to have to go all three five-minute rounds. We’re going to push our cardio, push our limits, and I think it’s going to be a nice show.”

Fourteen months ago, Carmouche had never competed. This weekend, should she get the better of Kaufman, she’ll likely position herself for another crack at the welterweight champion, It’s a far cry from what Carmouche expected when she first set foot in the gym.

“When I originally talked to my coach, I came to this gym with the whole mindset of I’d like to just to check it out and see if I even stand a chance. Just to say I fought once would be a nice check in the book; I want to have that stepping stone in my life and have that little marker.

“It’s always a dream – I wish I could fight in Strikeforce, I wish I could fight in the big time — but I didn’t really think it would happen. Once that year just took off running, I was absolutely taken aback.”

After a pause, Carmouche continued.

“I took a beat – I went to go visit my mom, and kind of had time away from the gym — and it gave me a chance to go `Wow, I’ve come so far; it’s so amazing.’ I can only imagine how great this next year is going to be.”

Carmouche has arrived, and no one should expect her to go anywhere anytime soon, except maybe to the top of the division.

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