Liz Carmouche is about to make sports history for two reasons. The mixed martial arts (MMA) star is about to become one of the first two women ever to participate in an Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fight. She's also about to become one of the highest profile openly gay athletes in the world. And her fans, the "Lizbos," will be rooting for her all the way.
Many in the LGBT community might only know the UFC from an incident several years ago in which its President, Dana White, apologized for having used an anti-gay slur. (White recently called this incident the "only thing I regret" from his tenure as UFC's head) In a conversation with GLAAD, Liz said that she's encountered nothing but support from UFC fans and fellow fighters during her career in MMA. "They've just been super supportive."
Liz discovered mixed martial arts during her time in the Marines. "I was looking for something to challenge me physically and mentally. Some people had suggested trying out MMA, and what started as something just to trying get in shape turned into a major life change." She served her entire tenure under the discriminatory 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' ban on open service. She says "it was really difficult, from meeting other people who were part of the LGBT community and couldn't be open about who they were, and my own issues with people trying to 'out' me, and the derogatory terms that people would use against (gay people). It was really difficult."
Carmouche left the military just as the law was being repealed, but she still saw that as the time to out to her friends in the military. "I expected more backlash. I expected people to not accept me for who I was, and I actually experienced the exact opposite." Even a friend who Liz says had been "completely bigoted" and said she "wanted to put all homosexuals on the front line" experienced a change of heart. "She accepted me moreso than I ever thought possible."
Many who work towards inclusion in the world of sports have noticed that athletes sometimes seem to live by their own personal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy - or they feel like one is imposed upon them by others. This was never the case with Carmouche, who has been out throughout her entire MMA career, thanks to an incredibly supportive gym. "It was my coach, goofing around, who said 'We know you are, so just come on and tell us. We're going to love you no matter what.'" It was also her coach, Manny Hernandez, who coined the term "Lizbos" for her fans. "He wanted to do something that would unite the fans and make them feel like they were connected."
She says her fans have been incredible, including the ones from the LGBT community who are new to MMA, and the fans of MMA and UFC who have never rooted for a gay athlete before. Now a role model herself, Liz says her own inspiration as a young athlete was soccer superstar Mia Hamm.
Carmouche has said in other interviews that she has found a flaw in the game of her upcoming opponent, Ronda Rousey, who is currently undefeated. And just like in other interviews, she (smartly) declined to elaborate to us on what that flaw is.
We'll all have to find out on February 23rd, when Carmouche challenges Rousey for the UFC women's bantamweight title!