Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
If you tune into the first episode of the UFC's three-part Primetime series hyping the Ronda Rousey vs. Liz Carmouche fight expecting to see two women talking down their opponents and threatening them with bodily harm, you are going to be disappointed.
But it you don't see it, you'll be making a big mistake.
The episode is easily the best one since UFC began the series to promote most of its biggest fights since 2009. Usually, the best episodes involve fighters who ooze hatred for their opponent whether it was Brock Lesnar and Frank Mir, Georges St-Pierre and B.J. Penn, or Quinton Jackson and Rashad Evans. It's there as a platform to get people to order pay-per-views to see two men, who outwardly want to violently humiliate their opponents.
This is entirely different. Instead, you are going to see a portrayal of two very different women who happen to be fighting in what is, in many ways, the most important women's MMA fight of all-time. It's not only the first women's fight in UFC, and a women's bantamweight title match, but it's also the main event of UFC 157 on Feb. 23 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.
The first episode airs multiple times during the week, including Friday at 11 p.m. on The Speed Channel and Saturday morning at 11 a.m. on FX. Rousey is, of course, the star. But the woman UFC likes to paint as the toughest woman fighter in the world was covered in tears in the show's final moments, talking about her very-real conflict between her real life and promotion of herself, notably the death of her father when she was a young child.
"People love to ask me about it all the time, because doesn't it make a great story," said the 26-year-old Rousey, who was the first American woman ever to earn an Olympic medal in judo, a bronze in 2008. "I feel terrible talking about it, I'm prostituting his memory for my own career gain and it makes me look like a f***ing asshole."
That's not the conclusion most would come to.
The story of Rousey, who grew up to her family as "Ronnie" after her father Ronald, and the inspiration of her father has been written in stories on her for the past five years long before she became an MMA media darling. It goes back to the press she got for winning her judo medal.
"We were sledding one day, I remember seeing him going down the hill, and laughing, but then when he hit the bottom, there was a snow bank, there was log covered in the snow, and he hit it," she recalled, heavily sobbing, about her most painful memory. "He was shooting really fast and broke his back. They tried putting a metal rod in his back and his spine started crumbling."
His father deteriorated quickly. Eventually, he was told he had only two years left to live. Due to his spinal issues, he would then become a paraplegic, and shortly after that a quadriplegic, and then he would die. Ronda being so young, had no idea of any of this.
Not wanting his daughter's last memory of him to be bedridden with tubes running out of him, he went out, took a hose, put it in the exhaust pipe of his car, got in the car, and turned it on.
Long before she had ever put on a judo gi, Rousey was a star swimmer. Swimming was what her father encouraged her to do and their time spent at the pool together was tied into her memories of him. She never swam again.
For years, she had talked about how her father had instilled in her that someday she would be a world champion in sports. She came close in judo, the sport of her mother, Ann-Maria Demars, the first American world champion in the sport back in 1984.
Rousey was a junior (teenage) world champion at 17. She was second in the world championships at 20. But judo, what she excelled at, was something she burned out on hard. After a bronze medal at 21, she quit. She tried a brief comeback, and didn't like it any better.
Discovering mixed martial arts, which several of her judo teammates in Southern California had spun off into, became a new challenge.
On March 3, she captured her first overall sports world championship, winning the Strikeforce bantamweight title, the most prestigious at the time in the sport, from Miesha Tate. That title evolved into UFC bantamweight title.
"I always say that I hope he would be proud of me," she said. "Because I don't know. I don't know, but I hope."
Rousey is shown as a serious athlete, constantly trying to improve her game. At least outwardly, she's taking her foe, a 12-to-1 underdog, seriously.
"She's a very unpredictable and extremely dangerous person," said Rousey "You would be an idiot to underestimate her because I've seen what happened to the there girls who have done that. And I'm not going to be one of them."
Carmouche is very much secondary in the promotion, but until the final scene, she stole the show, just like she's going to attempt to do in just over two weeks.
Living a hand-to-mouth existence, living with her girlfriend and dog, and working 14-hour days, the portrayal of Carmouche's homosexuality was neither run from nor sensationalized.
"It started when I was a kid," Carmouche said about coming to grips with her sexual orientation. "I'd see a movie and I'd imagine I was the guy kissing the girl and wonder why she looked so pretty. I never occurred to me until I was 22 and I really started to accept who I was. Now I'm at peace with my life and I'm in a good place."
UFC learned a long time ago to roll with the punches. In MMA, you never know who is going to win, and you can't bank on any outcome. Yet, the women's division was created largely as a vehicle for Rousey, with the belief she had that "it factor" where she could be as marketable as any fighter in the company.
"We all respect Ronda," said Carmouche. "It's not like we're feuding. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It's something I have to jump on and ride it all the way up to the top, and that's the only place to go."
Carmouche, a former Marine, works and trains at the San Diego Combat Academy. She's there every day from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., opening and closing the gym, running the front desk, answering phone calls, teaching classes and getting in her own training time. She started working there because she found that she loved fighting, but could no longer afford a membership.
"I was brought in to be the underdog because they think she's going to win," said Carmouche. "I'm okay with that. I absolutely think I'm going to spoil the UFC's plans."
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