When asked what went through her head after eating that big right hand from Sara McMann in their January bout, former Strikeforce champion Miesha Tate answered, “I have to diffuse the situation and I have to re-establish my dominance.”
And dominate she did, en route to her third consecutive win inside the Octagon.
At UFC 183, the number two-ranked women’s bantamweight contender countered an early scare against McMann to earn a majority decision on the judges’ scorecards. Initially, Tate showed off her trademark toughness by simply battling through the knockdown and extending the fight to the second round. Over the next 10 minutes, Tate stole the momentum of the melee by turning a tight guillotine choke attempt into a mount and, later, winning a scramble and landing heavy elbows from the top.
By the end of the scrap, the Washington native had not only regained her composure from a knockdown, but Tate had outgrappled a former US Olympic silver medalist in freestyle wrestling.
“I feel good about the win for sure,” Tate said. “The Sara McMann fight, overcoming that adversity, going into survival mode and then coming on stronger and winning the fight. It boosts my confidence knowing that when I’m under that pressure, I naturally react well. That’s comforting as a fighter to know that if I get hurt that I know I can make it through and I can come back. It’s not only surviving, but I know I can come back and win the fight. There’s always a chance. I’m happy about that.”
One could argue this performance is a solid metaphor for the 28-year-old’s UFC career thus far. With a 16-5 pro record, Tate made her Octagon entrance with a pair of losses, but has steadily regained her footing at the top of the women’s bantamweight rankings with decision wins over two former title challengers - McMann and Liz Carmouche - and by besting the previously undefeated Rin Nakai. While all three wins are impressive, Tate knows there is something missing and she’s ready to deliver in her next bout: a title eliminator with Jessica Eye at UFC on FOX: Dillashaw vs. Barao 2 this Saturday.
“Going into this next win, I’m happy I have those wins against top notch girls, but I really want to get a finish in this one,” Tate said. “I have had very stiff competition. Have they gone to decisions because they’re very tough girls? I’m not satisfied with that. There’s definitely more motivation for me to get a finish in this fight knowing that if I win this fight then maybe the next fight they’re saying could be [UFC bantamweight champion] Ronda [Rousey].”
Up next, Tate is set for a Chicago showdown with the the number five-ranked “Evil” Eye. Improving her pro record to 11-2, 1 NC in her most recent outing, Eye scored a grizzly, second-round TKO over Leslie Smith at UFC 180. Originally, Tate was gunning for a matchup with the unbeaten Bethe Correia, but her dance card became full with a title shot in Rio. Exchanging one hard-nosed, stand-up specialist for another, Tate will take aim at the conveyer belt of punches that is Eye’s over five significant strikes landed per minute.
“She’s a talented fighter,” Tate said. “She’s very confident in her boxing, her striking - and she should be. She’s good at it. She’s one of the better strikers in the division. She probably has some of the best boxing that we have in this division. She’s fast, she’s accurate, and she has good footwork. I love the style matchup. Those are the style matchups I grew up fighting. ‘The striker vs. the grappler’ - those were the fights they loved to put on. I’m the most comfortable with that type of fight. I like that Jessica doesn’t shy away when the pressure is being put on her too. When I go in there, I’m going in there to test myself - to test my skills against the best in the world. I want to fight someone who wants to fight me and I think Jessica wants that too.”
In preparation for Eye, Tate has been busy battling some of the best and brightest at the resurgent Xtreme Couture in Tate’s new adopted hometown of Las Vegas. It wasn’t just the sunny weather that lured Tate out of the rainy Pacific Northwest almost two years ago, as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt Robert Follis became the head coach at Xtreme Couture and the two had a great working relationship from their days in Portland at Team Quest. Also in “Sin City”, Tate’s stand-up is ever improving under famed boxing coach Jimmy Gifford and her muscles are ever expanding under Reggie Hobson of Phase 1 Sports.
“I think the biggest change I’ve been doing for this fight is the strength and conditioning,” Tate said. “I feel a lot stronger. For a long time, I felt like I hadn’t quite settled into the 135-pound weight class. I was still a little too light or a little too small or not quite strong enough. Over these past couple years, I’ve been putting on a little bit of muscle and a little bit of weight, and I’ve been able to keep the weight on more. I’ve done a lot of strength training for this fight. I feel really strong and I feel like I’m in good shape. I’m becoming a better athlete.”
Last and far from least, Tate’s longtime boyfriend, head coach and UFC bantamweight Bryan Caraway will be fighting Eddie Wineland in Chi-town as well. The last time this dynamic duo fought on the same card was six years ago and both won, similar to the first time it happened the year prior. In an interesting twist, Tate did not corner Caraway back then, but “Cupcake” has been a mainstay in “Kid Lightning’s” corner for his past few fights. It will be a night to remember for the cagefighting couple for sure, especially if they’re celebrating two big wins inside the Octagon.
This Saturday at the United Center at UFC on FOX, Tate is ready to give exponentially more than she gets when she takes on Eye. “When I get hurt, I usually come on stronger and come on harder,” Tate said. “We’ve been able to do great things and put on a three-fight win streak against top girls. I’m looking to make that a fourth one and then hopefully to make that a title shot again.”
>UFC FIGHT NIGHT: DILLASHAW VS. BARAO 2, 8PM/5PM ETPT.