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Ronda Rousey is unparalleled magnet for UFC's first female fight

Rousey will take on Liz Carmouche on Saturday at Honda Center.

February 23, 2013|By Lance Pugmire

Dana White, Ultimate Fighting Championship president, can't say how many female fans his organization draws, but he's certain the number will spike upward Saturday night.

It's all because Ronda Rousey, a 26-year-old former U.S. Olympian in judo from Venice, will headline the UFC's first female fight against challenger Liz Carmouche in the main event at Honda Center.

Rousey, who has won each of her professional mixed martial arts matches by first-round submissions via armbar, was anointed the UFC's bantamweight (135-pound) women's champion at a December news conference after previously being champion of the most notable outlet for women's MMA, Strikeforce.

"This is the most media attention we've ever had before a fight," White said, projecting a sellout and strong pay-per-view sales. White said Rousey has easily surpassed UFC star Brock Lesnar in media attention.

"No one has fought with the attention she has received," White said.

Rousey has expertly handled the massive interest in her UFC debut and even adjusted her training sessions by spending 10 days in the high altitude of Big Bear while emphasizing more boxing work in camp.

She has knocked out seven sparring partners using 14-ounce gloves, her trainer Edmond Tarverdyan said. She'll be wearing the standard UFC four-ounce gloves against Carmouche (7-2), a former Marine from San Diego.

"I try to be the most spectacular and improved in every fight," said Rousey, who weighed in at 134.6 pounds. "That's how progress is made. I'm not going to sit back and say, 'Oh, I'm awesome, all I need to do is maintain.' Every single fight I think of as the biggest thing in my life, ever, because every fight before this I treated as the UFC championship.

"I wouldn't have ever got to the UFC championship if it wasn't for winning all the previous fights. Everyone has nerves. People who say they aren't scared are lying."

While the UFC is working to build up the ranks of its female fighters, with White previously expressing interest in a Rousey super-fight against Cris "Cyborg" Santos, the importance of Rousey maintaining her dominance appears critical to keeping women's MMA at the forefront of the UFC brand.

Beyond her fighting skill, Rousey's cover-girl looks, her charisma and colorful, unfiltered responses to questions have lifted her into rarefied air as a sports figure.

"I think it's going to bring more fans in, but I won't consider myself a UFC champion — or even touch the belt — until I win this fight," Rousey said.

Carmouche, 29, who weighed in at 133.6 pounds, said she relishes being a forgotten participant in the event.

After serving in the Marines for more than five years through 2009, she was getting the best of Strikeforce welterweight champion Marloes Coenen before a triangle-choke stoppage in the fourth round of their 2011 fight.

Rousey has praised the challenger's varied skills, and Carmouche said she plans to deliver "spinning elbows, knees and kicks whenever I can," after spending considerable camp time learning how to defend against Rousey's famed armbar.

"I'm prepared," Carmouche said. "She's the champion, a great fighter who deserves respect, but me being me, I'm not fearful of anyone at all."

The card also includes a light-heavyweight bout between karate-sharpened former champion Lyoto Machida (18-3) of Brazil and Murrieta's hard-punching Dan Henderson.

White said the Machida-Henderson winner will get a title shot against the winner of the April 20 Jon Jones-Chael Sonnen fight.

Henderson's September shot at champion Jones vanished because a knee injury. But Henderson (29-8) says the knee has stabilized through rehab and believes his activity against the defense-minded Machida will prove decisive.

UFC 157 also features a bantamweight bout between veteran Urijah Faber (26-6) and El Salvador's Ivan Menjivar (25-9) and a welterweight fight pitting former title challenger Josh Koscheck (19-6) versus Robbie Lawler (19-9).

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimespugmire

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