For a young lady just about to celebrate her 26th birthday this Saturday – and not surprisingly she will do so with a prizefight against Julie Kedzie – Miesha Tate has been through a lot in the fight game. But she has no regrets about her chosen line of work.
“I’ve been knocked out in my career, I had my ankle broken in wrestling, I’ve had my nose broken, and now I’ve had my arm severely hyper-extended and I’m still here,” she said, also pointing out the torn MCL she suffered in the lead-up to her Strikeforce women’s bantamweight title-winning effort against Marloes Coenen a little over a year ago. If you want tough, it’s clear with one look at Tate that it’s not a male-exclusive designation in the world of sports.
“I think it’s just the rush that I get from it,” she said when asked why she still does it. “There’s nothing that I’ve found in this life that makes me feel more alive. And when I get ready to walk out, and the lights are going and I smell that misty smoke and the crowd’s cheering and I see the cameraman in front of me, I just know that this is really what I live for. This is what makes me feel alive. This is my passion and this is it for me. I love it and I’m so passionate about it that it drives me on a daily basis. So it’s hard to walk away from something that’s so fulfilling.”
Of course, despite all the other physical setbacks the Tacoma native has dealt with over the course of her athletic career, it’s the one from her most recent fight – a first round loss to Ronda Rousey in March that cost her the 135-pound title – that is most prominent on people’s minds these days. And for good reason. Caught in the final minute of the first round by the Rousey armbar that is rapidly gaining mythical status, Tate was expected – like most fighters – to tap as soon as it was clear that there was no escape from the maneuver. That would have been fine. There is no stigma in mixed martial arts toward those who tap out. It’s part of the game.
Tate didn’t want to play along.
“There were a lot of things going through my mind in just an instant,” she recalled. “I had about a second, maybe two, to decide whether I was going to tap or I wasn’t, and I just decided in that moment that I wasn’t ready to give up. I think a big part of it was that if you have a fighter’s instinct, it’s really hard to admit defeat, and it’s a hard pill to swallow. I never ever want to give up. When I found myself in that position, the last thing I wanted to do was tap. There are so many things on the line. For one, my pride and wanting to win that fight so badly; that if it hadn’t been stopped in that round, I would have gone on to fight the second round with my arm the way that it was. I would have done my best to continue to fight and win because that was just where I was mentally. It didn’t work out my way that time, and I was just thinking about my title, I was thinking about everything I had worked so hard for, and in that moment, it’s just really, really hard to want to say ‘okay, I want to give up. I have to stop.’ You never want to do that.”
What ensued in the next few seconds was Rousey cranking the armbar, hyper-extending and dislocating Tate’s arm in the process, and the soon to be ex-champion refusing to surrender. It wasn’t pretty to watch, but as Tate points out, she wasn’t seeing what the entire viewing audience on Showtime saw.
“No one can really understand what it feels like to be in that position,” she explains. “It’s one thing to be watching it as a spectator on TV or even another fighter watching it on TV because you guys can see a lot of things that I can’t really see. I’m going off feeling and emotion and I couldn’t see my arm or where it was. I know what an armbar is, but once it was hyper-extended and dislocated, that was the most painful part. And as she started to push it down toward her hip, it obviously got more painful and it got more tight and I didn’t understand where my arm even was. I just knew that it wasn’t in socket anymore because she tried to tuck it behind her own shoulder and it just went limp and it kinda fell down toward her hip. So I knew it was out of joint, but it wasn’t painful enough to make me want to stop, and mentally, I was so prepared to go in for battle and be prepared for the worst, so I didn’t feel that I needed to tap at that point. I wasn’t seeing my arm being bent 90 degrees backwards, I couldn’t really understand where it was at because I couldn’t see it, and it was something that I had never felt before. So I didn’t know how bad it was.”
It was bad, and finally, after several agonizing moments, Tate tapped at the 4:27 mark of the opening round. She had lost her title, but in the post-bout media assault, the former champion received as much attention as the new champion due to her courageous stand at the end of the fight. Not all of it was positive, as many questioned why anyone would put themselves through something like that in a fight. Oddly, the legendary Renzo Gracie never got the same criticism for his similar stand against Kazushi Sakuraba, one in which he allowed the Japanese star to break his arm rather than give in. Gracie's academy in New York City has one picture in it - and it's of the Sakuraba fight.
“When you win, it’s easy to forget all the hardship that you went through to get the win,” Gracie told me in 2010. “You get so excited with the victory and the people around you congratulating you and hugging you, you completely forget all the mistakes you made in that fight. But when you lose, you know them, and you will never forget them. So I made sure I put that picture here, and actually that’s the only picture I have here, hanging on the wall. It’s to remind me constantly that a fight is only finished when the bell rings and the ref pulls you guys apart. Every time I walk in, I see that picture, and remember that I’m not perfect. I need to improve, I need to get better, and I need to make the people under me better, so they don’t go through that.”
Tate, a woman, took some heat for her choice though.
“I got criticized for not tapping and that it was a stupid career move, but I’m just saying, well, who are you to judge?” she asks. “You’re sitting there watching it on TV and you don’t know what it feels like to be in that position and you don’t know what my pain tolerance is or what I’m capable of as far as recovery, so those people can say what they want, but truly, they don’t have any room to judge.”
Yet even in defeat, she did make a statement that the girls are just as tough as the boys.
“Looking at the big picture, although I lost and I’m not happy with myself in that regard, I think overall I am happy with the statement that it put out there for the overall well-being of women’s MMA and I think we took that idea (female fighters aren’t tough) right off the table,” said Tate. “Anyone who tries to say we’re not as tough as the men are, go ahead and pull up the fight between Ronda Rousey and I. I didn’t win, but I think I won a lot of respect and a lot of fans in the regard that it took a lot of balls to not tap. (Laughs) It’s kind of a funny play on words, but just because they’re men, that doesn’t mean that they’re any tougher or any more prepared to go out there and give it 110% toward their battle.”
And if there was another silver lining in Tate’s defeat, only her third in 15 pro MMA fights, it was that her arm wasn’t broken in the Rousey fight. It was dislocated, and some soft tissue was torn, but she healed up quickly, and as soon as she got the green light from doctors, she was back in the gym in Yakima, Washington. She admits to a little trepidation with using her left arm at first, but soon it was like nothing had ever happened and she was ready to return to the Strikeforce cage.
On Saturday, she gets her chance against veteran Julie Kedzie, not an easy fight by any stretch of the imagination, but the type of tough test Tate needs to not only get back on the horse, but to also make a statement that she’s ready for another go at Rousey, who defends her belt for the first time on Saturday against Sarah Kaufman.
“I’m gonna be ready to go as soon as I hear that bell because I’m really hungry,” said Tate. “I lost something, and Julie is the one standing in my way to get back to it. I’ve tasted something that she’s never tasted before and I think that makes me that much more hungry because I know how it feels to be the world champ and I want that back. I’m only 25 years old (at the time of this interview), and I don’t think I’ve reached the height of my career yet, so it’s just a matter of time before I get that back. I know, now that I’ve been in there with Ronda, that I’m even way less scared of her armbar than I ever was before the fight. Now that it’s happened, I respect it even less. Yeah, the worst thing that ever could have happened happened to me, and I’m still fine. I’m still here, I got over it, and I know that I’m even stronger for it. So next time around, I really think that I’ll be able to beat her.”
And if sniping at each other in interviews and on Twitter is any indication, Tate and Rousey may be setting the stage for a rematch down the line. Rousey may not say so, as she probably assumes that she’s proven her point against Tate already, but Tate makes no bones about what she’s shooting for in the future.
“I’m already training to fight Ronda again,” she said. “I know I have to get past Julie Kedzie, and I’m not looking over her, but I honestly feel like if I train to fight the number one girl every time, then I’ll beat anyone else along the way.”
That’s fighter talk, and Miesha Tate has certainly earned that seal of approval heading into the Kedzie bout. And after all the broken bones, ligament tears, cuts, and dislocations, she’s of the mindset that you can’t do anything to her that hasn’t already been done before. That makes her one dangerous woman.
“I’m not gonna win ‘em all, I know that,” she said. “But I win most of ‘em and I’m excited to get back in there and show that this didn’t keep me down. I’m not going anywhere. Things that happen to me physically only make me mentally stronger, which is where the battle is won more anyways. So I plan to come back with a vengeance, and I want my belt back, and I really think it’s as simple as don’t get armbarred.”