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Can Liz Carmouche Get Back Into Title Contention?

Liz Carmouche Vs Ronda Rousey (credit: Dave Mandel, sherdog.com)
Photo: After Liz Carmouche vs Ronda Rousey (by Dave Mandel, sherdog.com)

Remember the first women’s fight the UFC promoted?

She was one half of the first women’s fight in UFC history, has come closer than any other fighter to defeating Ronda Rousey, and remains Today’s Knockout’s 7th ranked women’s bantamweight. Still, Liz Carmouche steps back into the octagon at UFC Fight Night: Mendes Vs Lamas in Fairfax, Virginia on Saturday night against Lauren Murphy, in danger of becoming an afterthought at 135lbs.

It was back at UFC 157 in February of 2013 that Carmouche took Ronda Rousey’s back and tried to turn a neck crank into a rear naked choke. Rousey would eventually shake Carmouche off and finish the fight with her trademark armbar at the end of the first round. It was the first time anyone had put Rousey in real danger, and remains to this day the one and only time she has been seriously threatened inside the octagon.

You can’t help but wonder how different the landscape of women’s MMA would be today had Carmouche managed to cling on to Rousey’s back and force a submission. At the very least there would have been serious, positive, implications for Carmouche’s own career.

It was a once in a lifetime opportunity that she came close to taking. The right fighter at the right time. If Carmouche wants a second chance she will have to work for it, another shortcut to stardom seems unlikely.

“Girl-Rilla” lacks the superstar looks that earned Aleksandra Albu a UFC contract with just one professional fight under her belt, and Paige VanZant an individualized sponsorship deal with Reebok. Carmouche needs to win fights to earn future opportunities, and that has proved difficult in the UFC.

After rebounding from the defeat to Rousey with a win over Jessica Andrade, she has dropped back to back decisions against division standouts Alexis Davis and Miesha Tate.

Too small to get back into contention?

Not only has Carmouche been presented with the toughest competition in the division, she is also an undersized bantamweight. It is a combination that any fighter would find difficult to overcome. A natural fit for a 125lb weight class, Carmouche can only dream of her ideal division becoming a reality inside the UFC.

The two women’s weight classes the UFC is already promoting are still developing, and the talent pool isn’t deep enough yet to add more. Having already spent the best part of a year waiting for her upcoming fight, Carmouche knows she can’t hang around for a women’s flyweight division to be added to the list.

This is not a new problem for female fighters. We are used to watching the sport pass talented fighters by because there was no natural weight class for them on the biggest stages. I’m sure women’s MMA pioneer Tara Larosa would have welcomed the opportunity to pile on another ten pounds and compete for a UFC title in her prime.

To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best

To make matters worse, Carmouche’s run of tough opponents is not letting up. Former Invicta Bantamweight Champion Lauren Murphy has been beaten just once. That defeat came against top contender Sara McMann, a split decision that many believed should have gone Murphy’s way.

For the winner on Saturday night, the chance to work their way through the ranks to a title shot remains a possibility. Three consecutive UFC wins, in this division, goes a long way. Just ask Bethe Correia, who will challenge Ronda Rousey at UFC 190 after going 3-0.

Whether it’s Correia or Rousey – hint: it’s probably Rousey – they will then go on to face the winner of Miesha Tate and Jessica Eye, before possibly, finally, a fight with Cris Cyborg. What the UFC has done is create time and opportunity for other contenders to emerge.

If Carmouche is to put her own run together, it starts with a win against a very credible opponent on Saturday night. It has to, because this could well be her last chance to make an impression inside the octagon. As an integral part of the most groundbreaking fight in the history of women’s mixed martial arts, defeat on the UFC Fight Night prelims would be a sad way for Carmouche to go out.

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