LAS VEGAS -- Liz Carmouche, who will challenge bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey on Feb. 23 in the first women's fight in Ultimate Fighting Championship history, has been in her rock-star opponent's shadows since the fight was announced last month.
But Rousey's specter has never loomed as literally as it did last weekend. As Carmouche conducted interviews in a conference room at the MGM Grand prior to the start of UFC 155, she did so while dwarfed by a 20-foot-high Rousey banner, a fitting symbol of the upcoming fight between a media darling and a scrappy upstart.
"I don't need a picture [at home] when she's right there on the walls," Carmouche joked. "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's path to UFC pay-per-view headline status has been as swift as it was unexpected. By this point, her life story as a Marine Corps sergeant, Iraq War vet and openly lesbian fighter has been well-documented. Carmouche (7-2) rose through the ranks of women's mixed martial arts so fast, she challenged for the Strikeforce title against then-champ Marloes Coenen in March 2011, less than 10 months into her pro career.
But this is something entirely different. Before the Rousey fight announcement, the 28-year-old Carmouche, who lives in San Diego's sleepy North Park neighborhood with her girlfriend, Elisa Lopez, could go through her day-to-day life in peace. Now she's adjusting to life as part of the UFC's well-oiled promotional machine.
"Its been difficult just in the sense that I'm not a morning person, so now I'm waking up just kind of getting those [gym] hours in early in the morning and trying to make it through hitting mitts and getting beat up at six in the morning," Carmouche said. "It's not fun, but I'm working through it."
Carmouche got the title shot in large part through the powers of social media, as she used her Twitter account to have her followers, who she has termed "Lizbos," tell UFC president Dana White to give her the Rousey fight.
"We had been bombarding Dana White on Twitter, on Facebook," she said. "I got all the Lizbo fans to get involved, and we were just annoying the heck out of him."
And it worked, according to White. "Liz was the only one who wanted the fight," White said. "She was the one who was out there lobbying for it. All the others were making excuses not to fight Ronda."
Though Carmouche was willing to undertake a Twitter campaign to get White's attention, those who might be hoping for a social media war of words between Carmouche and Rousey between now and Feb. 23 are likely to be disappointed.
While several women's MMA fighters have shown jealousy toward Rousey for her success, Carmouche has been nothing but respectful and appreciative toward her opponent.
"If she hadn't made all the work that she did and talked to Dana White, and talked to ESPN and did all that work, we wouldn't be where we are today," Carmouche said. "So I certainly appreciate and agree with them that she's a lot of the reason why we're here, but, she can't fight by herself so somebody's got to help her out there.
"I'm a lot more strong-willed than I think some other people, and she can't psyche me out, which I don't think she will try at all," Carmouche continued. "But if for any reason she tries to do the mind games, and do some of the smack talking, I'm not the type of person to participate. All it's going to make me do is work that much harder."
Rousey, at this stage of the game, makes it clear the admiration is mutual. "I like Liz," Rousey said. "She's a Marine, I'm not going to be able to intimidate this girl. The prefight intimidation stuff won't work, I won't have that advantage I usually have over my competition. Because it's a first-time event, because [it's] the first time for women to fight on a UFC card, and she's the first openly gay fighter, [there] doesn't need to be any squabbling or argument. It's an extraordinarily positive thing, we don't need an argument to push it. It's a positive event and I don't mind there being no arguments. It sells itself. It's history."
With all the niceties out of the way, a fundamental question remains: What can Carmouche do to stop Rousey's armbar? That's the question all nine of Rousey's MMA foes, pro and amateur, have faced. Eight of the nine couldn't last a minute before the 2008 Olympic judo bronze medalist caught and trapped them in an armbar. The other, Miesha Tate, couldn't make it out of the first round before Rousey took her Strikeforce bantamweight title.
Carmouche smiles and hints she's seen something in Rousey's game no one else has. If you want to find out what that might be, though, you're going to have to tune on Feb. 23 or buy a ticket and go to Anaheim's Honda Center and find out.
"I think there are flaws, not necessarily that I want to say out loud to everybody," said Carmouche. "But I want it to be my little surprise, but I've definitely seen some flaws and we plan on capitalizing on that.
"I'm super prepared. Unlike some people who when they get the phone call, that's when they start preparing to fight, I've been doing this since she took the title. So I have a lot more months under my belt with experience and training than other people have in their fights."
Until then, Carmouche is going to do her best to enjoy the ride. "It's been great," she said. "Everyone's been really supportive, I'm more excited about the opportunity and the whole history behind it than anything."