HONOLULU – Liz Carmouche is familiar and comfortable in title opportunities, but she isn’t taking her Bellator 278 shot for granted.
Friday, Carmouche (16-7 MMA, 3-0 BMMA) will, for the third time, challenge for a major promotional title when she takes on champion Juliana Velasquez (12-0 MMA, 7-0 BMMA) in a five-round main event.
The first two title shots didn’t go her way. She lost to Ronda Rousey in the first women’s title fight in promotional history at UFC 157, then lost to Valentina Shevchenko six and a half years later at UFC Fight Night 156. Now, she has a third chance.
“It feels great, not only because this is just putting into fruition everything I’ve been talking about and dreaming about, but also I get to do it under the Bellator banner,” Carmouche told MMA Junkie at a news conference Wednesday.
Carmouche is 38 and one of the oldest fighters on the promotion’s roster, but neither of those facts mean she isn’t improving. In her title shot-clinching victory, Carmouche ran through Japanese standout Kana Watanabe with a 35-second TKO, the first stoppage due to strikes for he since 2013.
“It took a little bit to kick in, because you still have the adrenaline of having anticipated 15 minutes,” Carmouche said. “Going out there when it’s that brief, it’s like, ‘I still have more than what I’m putting out here.’ I was really happy with my performance, was really happy I was able to set that stone in the path to going for that belt.
Yes, she’s rolling. Carmouche argues at this point in time, she could be in the best form of her entire career. However, she is treating this moment like it could be her last crack at gold, a harsh but true reality for a fighter who has competed as a professional for over a decade.
“Each of my fights with Bellator, I’ve been thinking about that exact thing,” Carmouche said. “I have to capitalize and live in the moment and give everything I have in this fight, not focusing (too far ahead). As much as I focused toward the belt and that was the same when I came to Bellator, I was really identifying each fight as being the most important fight I had and tried to put everything into it. This is the same. This has to be the most important fight, get the belt, and the next one will be the most important fight, and so-on and so-forth.”
Bellator 278 takes place Friday at Neal S. Blaisdell Center with the main card airing on Showtime after prelims on MMA Junkie. Those in attendance, however, will be solely military members, first responders, and veterans. Bellator will not be selling tickets to the general public.
For Carmouche, knowing that is special. A former marine, Carmouche is embedded in many circles of the select Bellator 278 attendee demographics, so she’s proud to compete in front of her peers.
“(It’s) super special,” Carmouche said. “I was just telling someone the other day, most of my friends are either first responders, veterans, or active duty military. Everybody that’s coming out to see it that we know, they’re all first responders, military, or veteran. It means a lot to be able to give back to that community, to be able to put on a show for people I care so much about – because they’re also my friends, but also knowing how much … it makes such a difference in their lives to watch this, it means the world to me.”