Justin Flores was Rousey’s longtime judo coach during her amateur and professional fighting career, and Carmouche figured he could add new levels to her game. The problem was, she and Rousey were still fighting in the UFC, and with a second fight theoretically possible, he declined.
Cut to 2021, and Flores reached out to Carmouche to ask if she was still interested. With Rousey’s MMA career long over, there was no conflict. And as it turned out, that was pretty much perfect timing for Carmouche. She would get a short-notice call to fight Kana Watanabe, an Olympic qualifier in judo who was undefeated in MMA and had just upset Alejandra Lara in her second straight Bellator win.
“He was such an open-minded person who was just grateful to have athletes that want to improve and grow that having had faced Ronda played no role whatsoever in us working together whatsoever,” Carmouche told MMA Fighting in advance of her bout against Watanabe, which co-headlines Bellator 261 on June 25 in Uncasville, Conn. “I’ve certainly heard from other people that that’s not the case. I’ve heard other people where having had faced them or had a defeat, or it was a win, that their coaches won’t work with people, or there’s some animosity there. It was just really nice to see that wasn’t the case.”
Carmouche’s base of operations is with 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu and The Arena MMA in San Diego. But she’s constantly looking for other sources of inspiration in her 11th year of professional MMA. That’s one benefit of finding the sport as a neophyte after a career in the military.
“I didn’t come from a combat sports background where I had a real definitive background in anything to fall back onto,” she said. “So I’m well adapted to everything. I’ve done judo, I’ve done Greco, I’ve done boxing, I’ve done catch wrestling. So for me, it really doesn’t matter where they come in. I seek out people that are experts in their fields and see how I compare with them and if I can hold my own.”
One thing that surprised Carmouche working with Flores is that he wasn’t just a judo expert, but a Division I wrestler who could help bridge the gap between the two grappling arts.
“He’s a wiz,” she said. “He’s so smart, from having not only been a black belt in judo but also wrestled. Some people miss that element, and only see him as being her judo coach, and don’t realize, wait a second, I just watched you on Flow Wrestling, and you’re a top-tier wrestler. It’s really cool to work with him.”
That said, Carmouche doesn’t see that coaching stint as some kind of secret weapon, though she’s keeping secret who her other training partners have been for the fight. Whether Watanabe is a judo specialist or muay Thai bruiser, she doesn’t see one as better than the other.
“That’s just part of the game when you’re fighting people can start at such a young age and can create their combat sport before they adopt it into MMA,” she said. “I’m actually surprised I haven’t faced more at this point, because there are a lot of women out there who are judokas.”
As it stands, Watanabe is Carmouche’s next mission and one she hopes will be considered a title eliminator. Now that her longtime friend and training partner Ilima-Lei Macfarlane is no longer the champ, she vows to work even harder to capture the flyweight title from current title holder Juliana Velasquez. That’s just the start of her final push in the sport.
“What I would hope for with the belt is I could talk to Bellator and think about opening up the 135 (pound) division and see if I could hold a belt in two different divisions,” Carmouche said. “That’s ultimately how I want to end my fight career.”