SAN DIEGO — Despite being a world champion and ranking as a top 10 fighter throughout her entire career, Liz Carmouche calls herself “a late bloomer.”

“I come into my own a little bit later than everybody else. It’s just the way of things. I was even born late, it’s just the way that I am,” said Carmouche, the Bellator Flyweight World Champion.

Before Carmouche was serving up knee powerful punches, she was serving in the U.S. Marines.

“It gave me confidence, discipline and the ability to endure,” said Carmouche.

She took those lessons into fighting at age 26, overcoming her late start with hard work.

“Being in the gym as long as I could everyday,” Carmouche explained. “When I wasn’t at school, I was at the gym.”

 A few years later, she found herself in a different kind of fight.

“I was in during don’t ask don’t tell,” said Carmouche, explaining how she became one of the first openly gay fighters in the UFC.

Now, you can still find the 39-year-old hard at work in the gym, seven days a week to be exact.

She’s preparing to defend her title in Hawaii in front of her fellow veterans.

“I’ve had so many people reach out to me that either I served with them or they are fans,” said Carmouche. “Knowing I have so many people excited for it makes it an electric and exciting experience.”

The Marine veteran said this is more than a fight — Carmouche is using her platform as a chance to inspire and honor all those who serve.

“And represent all the first responders and military as one of their own and as a champion,” she said. “To be able to do that in front of them and show them what they can do with their dreams if they set their minds to it.”