Miesha Tate chokes out champion Holly Holm in 5th-round stunner

LAS VEGAS — In a stunning performance, Miesha Tate dragged Holly Holm to the ground and choked her out in the fifth and final round to become the new UFC women’s bantamweight champion Saturday night at UFC 196.

"Not many people wouldn’t tap out," Tate said of Holm, who went unconscious in the choke. "She went out like a champion."

It was a long road for Tate to even get to the title fight after seemingly being locked in limbo while Ronda Rousey was still reigning as the champion. Rousey had twice defeated Tate and it appeared that her chances of getting another shot were slim to none until Holm snatched the title away from Rousey at UFC 193 last November.

It wasn’t an easy road to the title on Saturday night either, as Tate had to endure 20 tough minutes with Holm before finally wrapping up the submission victory late in the fifth round.

"I feel like we had a great game plan," Tate said. "I had to be patient. She’s very dangerous. She’s capable of catching anyone at any moment. She’s a very calculated fighter."

From the start of the fight, Holm looked relaxed in her stance as she used her distance and range to keep Tate on the end of her punches and kicks.

Time and time again, Holm launched a series of kicks to the body and legs before finally launching a head kick toward the end of the round. Tate did a good job blocking the shot while returning fire with a couple of hard punches over the top for her only real offense in the opening round.

It didn’t take long after the second round started for Tate to rush forward and land a big double leg takedown to put Holm on the mat with a tremendous thud as they slammed to the ground.

Tate was tenacious in her attacks as she peppered away at Holm with punches and short elbows from inside the half guard of the champion.

Tate was absolutely relentless as she hammered Holm with some hard elbows before transitioning to take her back with just over a minute to go in the round. Tate quickly latched onto the rear naked choke and it looked like the fight might be over, but Holm somehow squirmed until she was able to get free of the submission as the horn finally sounded.

After clearly losing round two, Holm came out composed in the third as she landed some of her best punches of the fight, popping Tate from the outside and then circling away. Tate tried for only one half-hearted takedown attempt, and Holm shrugged her off with ease.

Holm stayed in control with an effective striking attack while Tate mostly played defense as time ticked away.

Tate rushed forward at the start of round four looking to take the fight back to the ground where she clearly had most of her success, but Holm refused to allow her to get a grip on her leg and she quickly took the fight back to the center of the Octagon.

Sensing that the fight was getting away from her, Tate once again tried to grab a takedown, but Holm defended, smashed her head into the mat and fired off a few punches before quickly returning to the feet.

With only five minutes to go, Tate was clearly in desperation mode after winning only the second round and watching Holm get the better of her on the feet in nearly every exchange.

Just when it looked like Holm was going to cruise home to a unanimous decision victory, she made one slip-up that allowed Tate to grab onto a body lock before she quickly dragged the fight back to the mat.

Holm did her best to get free of Tate’s grip, but before she knew it the former Strikeforce champion was wrapped around her neck, locking up a rear naked choke as the fighters crashed back to the mat.

Tate wrenched up on the choke and within seconds Holm’s face turned three different shades of red before she went unconscious and the referee swooped in to stop the fight. The stoppage came at 3:30 in the fifth round. 

Tate jumped to her feet in celebration as she finally was crowned the new UFC women’s bantamweight champion. Tate wins her first UFC championship while handing Holm the first loss of her professional career. Tate certainly will celebrate, but it probably won’t be long before she’s going to be asked about a third fight with Rousey, who is expected to return to action later this year.