By this point in the hype cycle surrounding Saturday night's UFC 157, chances are you've learned much about headliner Liz Carmouche's status as a female fighter, her quest to become the first woman not to be armbarred by opponent Ronda Rousey, and a ton more about her status as the UFC's first openly-gay fighter.
But Carmouche (8-2-0) also can also check another box on her Equal Employment Opportunity profile: That of U.S. veteran. Carmouche's military service as a Marine makes her part of what Pew Research estimates is just one half of one percent of the U.S. population that has been on active military duty during the past decade. The Marine who completed her military service in 2009 and served three tours in Iraq tells SI.com how her time in camouflage helped prepare her for life as a professional fighter, and, conversely, how MMA eased her transition back into civilian life. She tells us what it means to do real grunt work, what the ban on women in combat meant for her military career and why she initially found her current profession "barbaric." Some of the content has been edited for clarity.
And then I thought that I could play soccer in the Air Force and get paid to do it. That was like, whoa, you can't beat that. I can play soccer and be in the military. That didn't work out. You had to be an officer to do what I was interested in doing. I couldn't focus on school long enough to stick it out.
I said, 'OK, I want to do this.'
'Except for that because you're a woman.'
'Uh, OK, well, OK, how about this?"
'Not that either.'
'OK, so what can I do?'
A lot of the jobs I wanted to do that were restricted when I joined I would be able to do now. I wanted to be a grunt. I wanted to do counterintelligence. I also wanted to do reconnaissance and do Special Forces.
It wasn't until I started doing some of the workouts on my own and then watching later fights where I realized these were athletes with huge skill and great hearts participating in it rather than just street brawling.
The first day I went in to train... all these guys, they beat the crap out of me, busted my noise, my hair got pulled out. My clothing was ripped. I was tired and beaten. But I was smiling, loving every moment of it.
[After that] I took every single class they had the option, even if it was six hours straight. I kept doing that every single day and I've done it ever since.