BURBANK, Calif. --- When the cage door locks behind Liz Carmouche on Saturday night, she knows the crowd at Anaheim's Honda Center will likely be behind her rock-star opponent, UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey.
This won't be a new feeling for Carmouche. The San Diego Combat Academy fighter already felt the heat of a crowd's animosity back in 2010, when she was the American fighting a Mexican fighter in a Tijuana auditorium.
"When I was fighting in Mexico, having the crowd boo I was like, ‘Okay, now I'm going to make her bleed,'" Carmouche said. "I had her pushed up against the cage and I elbowed the same cut over and over again until it was just ripped open. I was like, ‘Keep going, she's going to pay more for this.' That just drives me to keep going."
Carmouche silenced the Tijuana crowd by giving her opponent, Margarita de la Cruz, such a pummeling, the doctor stopped the fight after the second round.
Granted, Rousey, the 2008 Olympic bronze medalist in judo, is a gigantic step up in competition from de la Cruz, career record 1-2. But Carmouche hopes the channel the same underdog energy she felt in Tijuana at UFC 157 in the first women's title fight in UFC history.
"The pressure isn't on me, the pressure's on Ronda," Carmouche said. "Its on her to defend the title and do a lot more media than I'm being asked to do, so the attention is mostly on her. I'm coming in as the underdog and no one really expects anything out of me. So anything I do at this point is amazing, the pressure's off."
The Rousey-Carmouche fight has experienced the sort of full-court PR press usually reserved for the year's biggest bouts. But Carmouche, who has been through three tours of duty in the Iraq War with the Marine Corps, has kept a military-like sense of composure and purpose of mission as the days wind down to the big fight.
Chatting with gathered reporters at Morton's the Steakhouse on Monday, the day before her 29th birthday, Carmouche explained how she keep things in perspective as she prepares for a history-making title fight.
"Maybe if I had an opportunity to sit still and took a moment's break, I probably would really think about it, and embrace the depth of what's going on," Carmouche said. But I don't. It's really going to take me finishing the fight to be like, holy s---, that just happened."
"I don't think it's going to all sink in until after the fight," Carmouche said. "I'm just looking at it as getting to hang out with people and talk to them, so it's not like, its not super different. If I was being interrogated or something, then maybe, I'd be like, what's going on here, but it's not, so its just, things are good."
Carmouche, who takes a career record of 7-2 into Saturday night's fight with Rousey, got the matchup in large part because she waged a public campaign to get the slot. UFC president Dana White has said no one else wanted to fight Rousey -- that's an exaggeration, but Miesha Tate has publicly stated she wanted some time off and Sara McMann has said she wants more fights before challenging Rousey, so it's not without a kernel of truth -- and Carmouche did her part in getting the attention of the MMA game's most famous promoter.
"Our camp saw awhile ago that Dana White will give fighters fights when they really push him for what they want, when they ask for it," Carmouche said. "So we said, sure, technically, we're under Zuffa [when she was fighting for Strikeforce], maybe it will work. If you don't ask, then what do you stand to lose? If you ask for it and you get told no, at least you tried. If you get told yes? Well, you get your dreams."
So Carmouche got her dream fight. What we haven't seen -- at least not yet -- is the classic gamesmanship that usually comes with a Ronda Rousey fight. Carmouche attributes this to two factors: The first being that Carmouche has publicly expressed her appreciation for what Rousey has done for the sport of women's MMA, a respect not always shown by other women's fighters; the other being that Rousey probably knows a former Marine with war experience isn't likely to be easily psyched out.
"I messaged her on Twitter and I said hey, I see everything that you're doing in the media and I think it's great, everything you're doing in women's MMA and how you're marketing yourself and getting attention," Carmouche said. "I don't know if other women's fighters have done that. But I've given Ronda respect and she's done the same for me.
"On top of that, I asked for the fight and I think she knows that I'm not the type of person who plays head games," Carmouche continued. "I'm not going to say things to make a point, I let my actions do so. I'm not willing to engage in that animosity and doing that type of thing, I think she knows if you're trying to do something like that with someone who's been in combat in the Marines, it's not going to go well for you."
While Rousey has shown Carmouche nothing but respect heading into the fight, the buzz among fight fans has been a different story. Carmouche has seen everything that's been written about her and can recite it by rote by this point: How she doesn't deserve a title shot, doesn't deserve a main event, and, oh yeah, Rousey is going to take her arm home as a trophy on Saturday night.
None of this talk fazes her. If anything, it's helping to serve as a final layer of motivation as the days wind toward the fight.
"My girlfriend gets riled up about some of the things that are said in the forums," Carmouche said. "I say, let people have their opinions, and let the fight speak for itself. By getting involved with them, you're going to give them exactly what they're looking for, and you're going to take away from the actions during the fight by using your words to start engaging them. I plan on letting my actions do the talking."