BTU #245 - Marine Corps to MMA & the UFC (Liz Carmouche)

They give us the sign that it’s time to get warmed up. At that point I’m completely focused. When I cross through and see the cage and all the fans, I start to have that tunnel focus and I know exactly what I want to do.
— Liz Carmouche

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Why Listen:
This is one of my favorite episodes. Liz is such an incredible example of determination and resilience. In this interview, she talks about what led her - just one month before her 26th birthday - to start MMA. We talk about commitment, and putting your mind and heart into whatever you do. We talk about how she prepares for a fight, how she takes her head out of a fight to save energy, and what it’s like recovering from failure. We also talk about what it’s like to be thrust - as an introvert - into the public spotlight. She talks about her weekly schedule - and it is insane. And we talk about what it took to get her to this point in her career. Regardless of whether or not you are interested in a career in sports or the MMA, there is something great in this interview for you.

About Liz:
Liz “GIRL-RILLA” Carmouche is a Mixed Martial Artist fighter, who currently competes for UFC in the women’s flyweight division, and is currently ranked #6 in the flyweight division. Liz was the first openly lesbian fighter in the UFC. Liz served in the Marine Corps as an aviation electrician for five years during which she did three tours of duty in the Middle East. 

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Transcript & Time Stamps:


Joining me today from San Diego, CA is Liz Carmouche. Liz “GIRL-RILLA” Carmouche is a Mixed Martial Artist fighter, who currently competes for UFC in the women’s flyweight division, and is currently ranked #6 in the flyweight division. Liz was the first openly lesbian fighter in the UFC. Liz served in the Marine Corps as an aviation electrician for five years during which she did three tours of duty in the Middle East.


Can you share with us more about your transition out of the Marine Corps?

I started the job hunt about six months before getting out. I spent another 6-8 months afterwards continuing to search for jobs and not really finding anything. I ended up utilizing the GI Bill and going to school full-time.


What lead you to Mixed Martial Arts?

I started watching MMA when I was in the Marine Corps. At first, I was kind of opposed to it. At the same time, I was getting sick of the monotony of running and lifting weights all the time. I started doing MMA workouts and really loved the conditioning that my body was receiving. As I started to watch more MMA, I started to dream of fighting.


When did you decide to really go for it?

It was well into my career before I really felt like I belonged there. Up to a certain point, I thought it was a lot of luck. After fighting Marloes Coenen and making it to the fourth round was when I really became convinced that I belonged in the sport.

After, I completed my Associates degree, I began to focus on MMA and train full time.


What was that like making the decision to focus on MMA full-time?

When I got out of the Marine Corps, I realized that the GI Bill would give me the flexibility to train at least 6 hours a day because I would have an income while going to school and training. There were definitely moments when I just wanted to be done with it because I was carrying textbooks with me everywhere I went and that was exhausting.

Eventually, I got really lucky and was offered a job at the gym that I now own and operate. At that point, I was able to focus my life completely on fighting.


What was that like once you started working at the gym?

I would open the gym at 5:30 in the morning. My shift would end at noon. I would go home and relax for a bit. Then I would go back to the gym at 3 and train until 9. I was catching up in a lot of ways because I started doing MMA a little bit later in life - a month before my 26th birthday. When you don’t have a martial arts background - that’s really late to get started. I didn’t take days off because I felt like I had so much ground to cover.

When Bill Crawford saw how devoted I was, he really took me under his wing and helped me progress.


Were you competitive as a child?

When I was growing up, I was convinced I could do anything. One day I would want to be an astronaut, then the next day I would want to be a professional soccer player. I’ve been working since I was 12. While everyone else was spending time with their friends during the weekend, I was working 2-3 jobs. My mom really raised me to be independant and to go after whatever it was that I wanted.

The Marine Corps was what really taught me to be able to focus on something and channel my energy into that.

A lot of times young girls at our gym will ask me for advice. What I always tell them is to channel their energy into whatever it is that they’re passionate about. Anybody is capable of anything. Anything is possible with the right mindset.


What is a typical day like for you?

I’m married with a 2-year-old. Kids don’t have any other thoughts other than just enjoying their life. So they really have endless energy.

My son is the built in alarm clock for my wife and I. He gets up around 6:30. We’ll get up and get breakfast ready and spend some time together as a family. Then my wife will usually bring our son to daycare. After that, I head to the gym and spend the whole morning training. In the afternoon, I meet back up with my family or run some errands. Then in the mid-afternoon I’ll go back to the gym. I’m usually there until 8 or 9 at night.

On the weekends, it’s actually a little bit crazier. My wife and I will go to the gym for a wrestling class. My gym also has a few other locations so I’ll check in on those. We also try to make sure we’re spending quality time together as a family.


Do you have a before fight routine?

Different events will have different requirements for the amount of time beforehand. The morning of, I try to sleep in and get as much sleep as possible. I try to keep my head out of the fight and watch Food Network shows. I’ll play video games and bring my guitar.

Once I arrive at the venue, the biggest things is managing my energy. I try to stay away from my phone as much as possible. I’ll joke around with my coaches, we try to keep it pretty light.

When it’s time to get warmed up, all the joking goes away. When I get backstage, I try not to get too hyper but to just stay focused. Then when I cross into the stage, that’s when that real tunnel focus comes into play. When I get into that cage, I’m just completely focused on that moment.


What is it like being a public figure?

It was an adjustment because I’m an introverted person. I really like my privacy and my sanctuary. So fighting can be exhausting because it’s very public. I need to make sure I take time for myself to re-center myself.

After the Marloes Coenen fight, I remember going to the grocery store and I was recognized by someone. It was great but I just wasn’t expecting it. It was weird for me. But to be someone that can inspire others is something I really like.


Can you tell us what it’s like to be the first openly lesbian MMA fighter?

I didn’t come out until I was 22 when I was active duty in the Marine Corps. It was during “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. It was really difficult because I was discovering myself but I wasn’t able to be public in any way.

I grew up in Japan where you really didn’t see PDA of any kind much less from a same sex couple. Being in the Marine Corps was the same in a way and same sex couples were seen in a really negative light. I remember one of the Staff Sergeants said that he was going to go on a witch hunt to find any gay Marines and out them and get them kicked out of the military.

When I got out of the Marine Corps, I just felt like I was done with hiding that part of me. I was willing to sacrifice opportunities if it meant that I could be openly gay. I wasn’t necessarily trying to be this face of the LGBT community, I was just trying to be authentically myself. And what that ended up turning into was being a representative for the LGBT community in MMA.


How do you recover mentally from a fight that you lose?

If I fight on Saturday, I’ll be back in the gym on Monday regardless of whether I win or lose. That shows that I support my team and my teammates and also that whether I win or lose, I’m still committed to bettering myself and growing.


What advice do you have for people that want to pursue MMA as a career?

It’s definitely possible. If I can do it, there are other people out there that can do it. The biggest boundary is the boundaries you set for yourself. If you believe you can do it, you can.


Are there any resources you would recommend?

I would suggest that people find an MMA fighter that they look up to. Then find a gym that can help you replicate the style of that fighter. The gym where I workout has provided me with a family. We all support each other and grow together.


Is there anything else you’d like to share with listeners?

I would be doing a disservice to my gym if I didn’t talk about some of what I’ve gotten from them. I’ve made some markers in MMA history but that has been because I was pushed and helped by my team and my gym. It’s because of the support and leadership I’ve gotten from my gym that I’ve been able to achieve what I have.