Miesha Tate’s long road back to the UFC was worth the wait
On March 5, 2016, Holly Holm was set to make her first defense of the UFC Women’s Bantamweight title. She won the title in one of the biggest upsets of all-time against the only champion in that division’s history, Ronda Rousey. She went in as sizeable favorite of her own, defending against long-time contender and former Strikeforce champion Miesha “Cupcake” Tate.
This was the co-main event of the biggest card of that year and what would end up being one of the most purchased UFC PPVs of all-time, underneath the rematch between Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz at MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Holm won the first round by most accounts. In the second round, Tate came on strong and dominated the champion. The crowd was rabid for her as she nearly finished Holm with a rear naked choke but the rounded ended without a stoppage. Tate won a 10-8 round, but had she gassed out in trying for the finish? Holm won the next two rounds and was either up 38-37 or 39-37, depending on how you scored the second. So Tate would almost certainly need a finish to win the title and Holm would just have to last five more minutes.
Holm starting the round dominating the standup. Tate kept going for the takedown and finally got it to secure the choke. Holm fought it off but eventually passed out. Miesha Tate was the new UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion and the Las Vegas crowd exploded in appreciation. It was one of the all-time feel good moments in UFC history as Tate became a fan favorite during her two-fight series with Rousey.
Just over eight months later, Tate was retired at 30. She lost the title in her first defense at UFC 200 against Amanda Nunes. After several changes to the planned card, her fight ended up as the main event. Nunes is now thought of as the all-time greatest fighter in women’s MMA and in the conversation for all-time greats regardless of gender. But at the time, Tate went into the fight as a big favorite. Nunes had a 13–4 record and was on a three fight win streak but had barely won a three-round decision over Valentina Shevchenko in her previous fight and it had only been 18 months since she’d lost to Cat Zingano.
Nunes destroyed Tate in the title fight, submitting her in the first round with a rear naked choke after dominating her on the feet with strikes. Many felt that the pressure of being in the main event position got to Miesha in addition to things she was dealing with in her personal life. She came back a few months later and lost a decision to Raquel Pennington and after that fight, to the shock of the MMA world, she retired.
Tate was half of the fight that ended up being largely responsible for women being allowed to fight in UFC. As the Strikeforce Bantamweight Champion, her title defense against Ronda Rousey drew an impressive 472,000 viewers for the show, peaking at 604,000 for their fight. That audience would’ve likely been larger if the fight had gone longer. More importantly, both women came off as major stars in the specials that aired on many platforms prior to the fight.
Rousey would win the title and the title itself was moved over to the UFC after the UFC’s purchase of Strikeforce and merging of the companies. After Rousey beat Liz Carmouche in the first ever women’s fight in the UFC, Tate and Rousey agreed to coach on the The Ultimate Fighter. During the airing of that show, Rousey came off as a major heel to viewers and, conversely, Tate was a big fan favorite. They would go on to fight in the co-main event of UFC 168 in December 2013. Rousey successfully defended the belt, winning via third round submission. That show did over 1 million PPV buys and this fight was a big reason why although there was a lot of interest in the other title rematch on the show, Chris Weidman vs Anderson Silva.
What really cemented the fact that Tate was a draw on her own was when her fight with Sara McMann was in the featured prelim fight at UFC 183. The prelims did over 1.5 million viewers, a huge number at the time. That followed a fight on FOX against Jessica Eye where they were in the co-main event that did 2.5 million viewers on average with their fight peaking at over three million.
The number of women who have fought on multiple pay-per-views that did over one million buys is a very small list and Tate is on it. Those fights included the Rousey and Holm fights as well as the fight with Pennington, which opened UFC 205. That show was headlined by Eddie Alvarez vs. Conor McGregor but Tate may have been the biggest star on the show outside of the main event.
After that loss, Tate eventually took on an executive position with ONE Championship, an MMA organization based out of southeast Asia. She split with longtime boyfriend Bryan Caraway, and had two children with MMA fighter Johnny Nuñez. To the surprise of many, myself included, it was announced several months ago that she would return to fight in the UFC. Her opponent would be 44-year-old Marion Reneau, the 12th ranked UFC bantamweight, who would be retiring after the fight. At just 34-years-old, Tate would be ten years younger, despite having been gone for five years.
This fight would take place in front of no fans and wouldn’t even be the main event. Originally the show was scheduled to be headlined by Max Holloway and Yair Rodriguez but Holloway pulled out of the fight due to injury and Islam Makhachev and Thiago Moises were put into the main event slot. But to many fans watching, the Tate fight was the real main event.
Miesha Tate got the lion’s share of the media attention going into the fight. She came off mentally and physically sharp and completely prepared for her return to fighting. She was sure to emphasize to anyone who asked that she was not returning for one fight and her ultimate goal was to regain the UFC title, still held by Amanda Nunes.
Tate dominated the fight with Reneau from the outset with her wrestling and ground control but looked good on her feet as well. Reneau was a game opponent but did not have enough for the motivated former champion. After clearly winning the first two rounds, Tate did not let up in the third and got Reneau to the ground again. After working for a submission, Tate switched to using ground and pound and when Reneau stopped fighting back, referee Herb Dean stopped the fight with just over 3 minutes left in the final round. Miesha Tate was victorious in her UFC return.
In her post-fight interview, she reiterated that she wanted a shot at the UFC title. She would likely need another win in order to get that title shot and would go into that fight as an underdog. But she looks refreshed. Nunes is just one year younger than Tate, but she has more wear and tear on her as a fighter after years of title defenses. Tate regaining the title would likely be the biggest upset in UFC history but would also be one of the biggest feel-good stories as well. Millions of UFC fans will likely be cheering for her in that quest.