SAN DIEGO -- Liz Carmouche has a solid rationale on why she, and not Joanna Jedrzejczyk or Nicco Montaño or Sijara Eubanks or anyone else, deserved the fight with Valentina Shevchenko for the vacant UFC flyweight title: Carmouche, not Amanda Nunes or anyone else who has fought Shevchenko over the course of the latter’s 18-fight mixed martial arts career, owns a stoppage victory over the woman many consider the uncrowned 125-pound champ.
“I’m the only one who has ever finished her in MMA,” Carmouche told MMA Fighting. “Not in Muay Thai or kickboxing. I’m talking MMA. So, that would just, you think that would make sense for me to be the one to compete against her.”
Unfortunately for Carmouche, who defeated Shevchenko via doctor stoppage TKO on a small show in Oklahoma back in 2010, Shevchenko vs. Jedrzejczyk is on for UFC 231 in Toronto after a long and drawn-out process, so she won’t get the title fight she wants, at least not for now. Carmouche says she understands why the fight between the longtime rivals was made.
“When I heard it, I was bummed,” Carmouche said. “I understand you always want drama leading up to the fight. You want whatever publicity you can get for it. It’s more appealing for fans, for media for everything. So I understand why everyone wants that.”
Either way, Carmouche believes the UFC made the correct call in stripping the belt from Montaño. The New Mexican became the inaugural champion by virtue of winning The Ultimate Fighter 26 tournament. But she was stripped of the belt after she was hospitalized due to a weight cut gone awry before what was supposed to be a title fight against Shevchenko at UFC 228.
Half the MMA world seemed to believe the UFC was simply using the episode as an excuse to get the belt off someone who hadn’t clicked with fans, while the other half believed it was the correct handling of what amounted to a failed weight miss. Carmouche, for her part, is in the latter camp.
“As a champion, you are supposed to embody professionalism for the entire weight division,” Carmouche said. “And if you can’t make weight, the weight cut shouldn’t begin in the fight week. It shouldn’t happen the day before weigh-ins. You should be leveling off, doing things intelligently your whole fight camp. So if you wait until the end and you do things unprofessionally, there are going to be consequences, putting your body at risk. As a result she wasn’t able to compete, and it’s not the first time she had to bail out of a fight. To me, that’s not what a champion does. I think they made the right call.”
While decisions on the immediate championship picture are out of Carmouche’s hands, the idea of a run at a belt has pushed her full speed into the next stage of her career. Carmouche is already well-admired for her various accomplishments in the sport -- from her role as the first openly LGBT MMA competitor competing on a major level, to fighting Ronda Rousey in the legendary UFC 157 event, to winning the first legalized MMA fight ever held at Madison Square Garden, to her role in helping develop Manolo Hernandez’s 10th Planet San Diego as the premiere women’s-focused MMA camp in the country.
But Carmouche’s accomplishments came as an undersized bantamweight, so she’s glad to finally have an opportunity to find a better fit.
“I was beyond pumped,” Carmouche said about hearing the UFC would add a women’s flyweight class. “I was disappointed when I heard they were adding a 145 division, and then the 115 division, and not 125. I know all the female big names were in 135, and a lot of them like myself had moved up a weight class, because I said to myself you’re not going to have this opportunity to fight in the best organizations in the world, so, you go up 10 pounds? Ehh, that’s fine. And the same thing, I knew they were holding off on [flyweight] because they would lose so many people out of the [bantamweight] division.”
Carmouche followed a split decision loss to Alexis Davis in her 125 debut with a win over Jennifer Maia at UFC Boise. That gives her three wins in her past four fights, and if nothing else, she believes that should have given her the nod ahead of Jedrzejczyk, who has not fought at 125 pounds since entering the UFC back in 2014.
“I understand the storyline aspect,” Carmouche said. “But she hasn't beaten anyone in this weight class. It’s quickly becoming a stacked weight class and there are plenty of fighters who have competed at 125 and won fights in the UFC.”
Who knows? This is the UFC, and plenty can happen between now and December. Whether Carmouche gets a call to be a fill-in for UFC 231 if either fighter has to drop out, or whether she has to take another fight in order to bolster her case for a future shot, Carmouche is ready to do whatever she needs.
“Nicco needs to fight her way back into contention and maybe that’s the right fight,” Carmouche said. “Whatever I have to do, I’m ready.”