A viewers' guide to UFC 157: Ronda Rousey vs. Liz Carmouche
"Never," said Dana White as he was climbing into his car, a smile on his face. "Never."
That was the UFC president giving one of his typically blunt answers to one of those impromptu quick-hit questions you always hear shouted out to celebrities and newsmakers in video clips on TMZ.com and other gotcha websites. Boy, did they get Dana that night two years ago, spawning 20 seconds of oops that will live forever on YouTube with what at the time seemed an innocent, if barely relevant, question: When will we see women fighting in the UFC?
Well, we've come a long way, baby.
On Saturday night, the biggest promotion in mixed martial arts not only will see its first women's fight but will even headline a $55 pay-per-view show with that fight.
White has been asked again and again to explain his flip-flop, and his answer is always the same. "Ronda Rousey," he'll say before launching into an awestruck description of his 135-pound champion, who will face Liz Carmouche in the main event of UFC 157 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. (10 p.m. ET, PPV). The 26-year-old Rousey is, in White's words, "mean" and "nasty" and "badass" and "a rock star."
Dana did not know any of this about Rousey when he uttered that infamously brusque dismissal of the women's game back in January 2011. No one else in MMA knew anything about her, either, other than those who happened to be watching the 2008 Summer Olympics and saw the Californian become the first American woman to medal in judo. Though she began training in MMA soon afterward, Rousey had not yet had a professional fight at the time White was asked about women in the UFC.
Once Ronda went pro, however, her star rose as quickly as her opponents fell. After four fights -- each finished with a Rousey armbar in 49 seconds or less -- she was fast-tracked into the cage with Strikeforce champion Miesha Tate last March. Tate didn't surrender the belt so easily, but she did surrender. It took a little arm-twisting by Rousey to elicit the tapout at 4:27. Then, five months later, Ronda returned to her short workday, submitting ex-champ Sarah Kaufman with — what else? — the armbar in 54 seconds.
Now it's Liz Carmouche's turn, and don't expect to see her shaking in her boots. After all, if she even owns a pair of boots, they're military-issue. Before becoming an MMA fighter, Carmouche spent five years in the US Marine Corps, including three tours of duty in Iraq. Even Ronda Rousey acknowledges that that's a lot more intimidating than anything she has in her arsenal to threaten Liz. This is a fighter tough enough to handle the pressure of blazing not one but two trails this weekend: When she takes part in the first women's bout in the UFC, she'll also be the first openly gay combatant in the octagon. The 28-year-old who whimsically calls her fans "Lizbos" is here, and she's queer. Get used to it.
5: First-minute finishes, all by armbar, in her six pro fights. Even when you factor in her late-first-round stoppage of Miesha Tate, Rousey's average fight time is just 77 seconds.
17: Age when she became the youngest judoka to compete in the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Four years later in Beijing, she took bronze to become the first American woman to medal in the sport.
66: Percent of significant strikes she's avoided over her career. That defensive aptitude will be tested by the relentless fists of Liz Carmouche, who lands 4.53 significant strikes per minute, on average (to 1.87 for Rousey).
5: Knockouts among her eight victories.
21: Months spent in Iraq during her five years on active duty in the US Marine Corps.
15-1: Opening odds on the fight, making Carmouche a huge underdog.
What we should expect: Liz Carmouche is a relentless, coming-straight-at-you fighter. But if she knows what's good for her, she'll keep her distance this time. The jab will be her best friend, and if that doesn't keep Ronda Rousey at bay, then her takedown-rebuffing sprawl will be her second-best friend. As long as Liz can keep the fight standing, she has a chance. Sure, Ronda has honed her striking under the tutelage of unbeaten boxing great Lucia Strijker, but that's not the fight she wants. If she can get her hands on Carmouche, that brings her Olympic-tested judo into play, and that means Liz is headed to the mat. And we all know how that ends.
Why we should care: Even if you don't think women should be fighting in a cage, or even if you're neither in favor of it nor opposed but simply don't care to watch, there's no denying the historic implication here. The meeting of Ronda and Liz is not as momentous as women's suffrage, not even as far-reaching as Title IX, but when these athletes step through the cage door on Saturday night they'll be staking their gender's place on the sport's grandest stage.
"We're just not getting arm-barred. We're doing armbar defense, attacks, counters. It's just a matter of having enough practice. I'd definitely prefer to take this to the ground, show her that she can't armbar me."
-- Liz Carmouche in a UFC promotional video interview
"People like to say how terrible my striking is. ... I think the whole mystery of it, that people haven't really seen that much of the rest of my game, they have to assume that it's bad or else they just have no hope. Because everything they've seen so far is as perfect as possible."
-- Ronda Rousey in a UFC video
"It's been exciting to be a part of history. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a part of this. But it's a little overwhelming. It's something new to a new audience base."
-- Carmouche in an interview with SI.com
"Women play an important role in the UFC... walking around with a numbered sign in a bikini."
-- A viewer comment on YouTube below the two-year-old TMZ video in which Dana White says women will never fight in the UFC
"You know, I was really encouraged when I walked in and saw the 'No Women' sign. It made me feel great that they were finally being convinced otherwise."
-- Rousey, referring to a sign barring women from the famous boxing gym The Summit in Big Bear Lake, Calif., where she was welcomed to train for this fight
In good standing: Some of the mystery that once shrouded Lyoto Machida is gone. He was considered unhittable... until he got hit a lot of Mauricio Rua, who took away his light heavyweight belt, besmirched his unbeaten record and sent him stumbling toward three losses in his five most recent fights. That's where he is now, but "The Dragon" still could be in line for another shot at regaining the belt if he can handle Dan Henderson. No one ever has knocked out "Hendo," and Dan has won seven of his eight bouts since 2008. But he's 42. Will time — and Machida — finally catch up to him?
Timing your shot: Urijah Faber looked a little lost in dropping a unanimous decision to Renan Barão in an interim title bout last July. But if he can get by Ivan Menjivar he could find himself right back in the bantamweight title chase. Menjivar has won four of five but is taking a big step up in competition. Is he ready?
Different levels: Josh Koscheck has hopes of continuing to compete at the highest level in the welterweight division. Ditto for Brendan Schaub among the heavyweights. But all will be lost if they don't get by this weekend's next-level-down opponents: Robbie Lawler, a welterweight who has dropped four of his last five bouts, and Lavar "Big" Johnson, who has dropped three of five.
Questions? Comments? To reach Jeff Wagenheim or contribute to the SI.com MMA mailbag, click on the E-mail link at the top of the page.