Miesha Tate is brave enough to admit it. When you’re at the lowest of lows, crazy things run through your head. Regrets of the past, sure, but thoughts of the future, too. Like questioning where exactly she belongs. Like cutting weight to 115 pounds. Like quitting. Most of this stuff comes and goes, but then, after a fight, all an athlete has is time to think.
The future is what’s important now to Tate, still less than two weeks removed from a spectacularly hyped rematch in 2013’s biggest MMA event with her rival Ronda Rousey. And the first thing she wants you to know is this: she’s not going anywhere. While she briefly contemplated retirement after her first match with Rousey in 2012, this time around the thought was never more than a flash through her mind. No, she won’t go away quietly, instead, hoping for a fast return to action. To her, Sarah Kaufman or Liz Carmouche seem like worthy foils, ones that can move her career forward.
That’s what it’s still about for her: Despite being thrilled to not have to deal with or discuss Rousey, Tate is still as game as they come when it comes to the game.
I would fight [Rousey] 100 times, as many times as they let me.
"I told Dana White that I’d fight her as many times as he’d let me," she told FOX Sports in a Wednesday night interview. "I don’t care if I fought her 100 times and I lost the first 99 of them. I would fight her 100 times, as many times as they let me. If she beats me nine times out of 10, that might be the reality of it, but I would be game to fight her any day at any time they’d let me. And if I could ever work that and prove I deserve another title shot, or even if it’s not for a title, if I ever do earn the opportunity to fight her again, I would love to."
While that’s not entirely a warning shot at Rousey, it is an acknowledgment that Tate will continue to offer the same ferocious attitude that made her the first opponent to take Rousey out of the first round.
To Tate, that’s a nice footnote but not nearly enough of a result. It’s just another, nicer way of describing a loss.
If there is any solace in the whole thing, it’s that by and large, the support for her that built like a wave is still there for her in defeat. She says that she’s been lifted by the messages she’s received, even if the tidal wave of pressure that came with it may have affected her performance more than she could have ever expected.
That’s not to say that she doesn’t give Rousey full credit for winning; she does. It’s just that in the first matchup, she came in emotionally invested in her opponent. Afterward, she viewed that as a mistake and vowed not to do the same thing. But instead, she emotionally invested herself in the fans. At some point, the pressure of it all got to her.
It’s a lot of pressure when every single person you run into is like, ‘Please, for my sake, beat this girl up.’
"I’m super appreciative of the support, and that’s the inner turmoil of the whole thing," she said. "It’s a lot of pressure when every single person you run into is like, ‘Please, for my sake, beat this girl up.’ You feel pressure not to let everyone down. It’s not my fight then, it becomes a fight I’m fighting for everyone else. It puts pressure on an athlete. Especially me because I don’t like to let people down. I felt a tremendous amount of pressure to not let everyone down. And then I heard people chanting my name. Oh my gosh. Normally it should pump you up, but I was like, ‘You guys are stressing me out.’ I love the fans but it just added to it. It was enough pressure by itself. I didn’t need the whole world to think, ‘You have to beat this girl.’ It was just weird.
"I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining about it," she continued. "It was great having all that support. But that was the inner turmoil I was dealing with."
Despite having a great training camp, Tate said she had a huge adrenaline dump before she competed. Her muscles, she said, felt like "noodles," like she had sat in a hot tub and was in a state of relaxation when she needed to be explosive.
When she looked across the cage, she knew that Rousey was unlikely to be experiencing any of the same feelings. While for Tate, this was the first real time in the pressure cooker, Rousey had competed on the Olympic stage, and had a UFC main event under her belt.
When they tangled, Rousey took her down six times, and locked her into three arm bars before finishing in the third.
"I felt like sh-t, to put it quite frankly," Tate said. "Watching it again, I looked better than I felt, but I really had to push myself because I felt horrible. I was trying to push out of first gear but it didn’t really happen. I did a lot of good things defensively but I wasn’t able to do some of the offensive things that we worked on."
Tate says her muscles felt like "noodles" inside the Octagon at UFC 168, due to an adrenaline dump.
Part of that, she concedes, is due to what Rousey brought to the table. She called the champion’s judo "amazing" and her athleticism "phenomenal." Her sportsmanship? Not so much.
In the seconds after Rousey won, it was Tate who got off the ground first, and she offered a hand to the champion, who rebuffed it and walked past her to her corner. The snub resonated with the 15,650 in attendance at the MGM Grand, who immediately drowned Rousey in a sea of boos so loud that her post-fight words were unintelligible inside the arena. In the post-fight press conference, Rousey went on to say that she wouldn’t shake Tate’s hand until Tate apologized for insulting her coaches, but that explanation doesn’t hold water with Tate.
"That was my respect for her as an athlete," she said. "The only time from now on that I would ever show her that again is in a professional respect. I still don’t care for her as a person but in that moment it was like, ‘OK, this is my closure on this.’ She won fair and square. Win or lose, I would’ve done the same thing. She didn’t reciprocate and that’s fine. That’s her choice but she doesn’t get to dictate what I do and what I don’t do. At the moment I felt that was the right thing to do, to show that I respected her as an athlete. That’s what it was about. Now that it’s over, you won’t see me trying to shake her hand anytime soon."
And so that final thwarted handshake attempt is a launch into the future. But where exactly will it take her? Tate has been tempted by the idea of dropping to strawweight, so much so that she briefly spoke to UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby about the possibility, but she doesn’t think 115 pounds is quite within range. More realistic is 125, but since the UFC does not offer that weight class, she is stuck in a limbo between a weight that she can’t quite make and another where the women keep getting bigger. At her natural weight of about 142 pounds, making weight is no problem, and attempts to pack on muscle have been mostly fruitless.
Now that it’s over, you won’t see me trying to shake her hand anytime soon.
"I don’t want to put on unnecessary size where I’m more tired," she said. "I don’t think that’s conducive to a good performance. I’d love to have an opportunity to see what I could do at 125 but I’m not going to leave the UFC stage. I’m going to stay with the UFC no matter what."
So that leaves her mostly where she began this UFC ride, as a bantamweight with Rousey lording over the division.
The focus shifts now, but the pressure moves from being an integral part of one of the year’s biggest rivalries to simply winning a match. For now and for the future, that will have to be enough for her.
"I just want to get back in there and get back on a win streak," she said. "I hope people don’t count me out. I know I lost two fights in a row for the first time in my career. That’s devastating enough as it is. The only way to fix it is to get back on the horse. I’m 27. I’m not done. I’m still going to improve, and I’m going to show I can hang with the best. I just want the opportunity to prove that again."