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Miesha Tate: a Career Defined by Overachievement

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Miesha Tate UFC

“I had a lot more to give, but I couldn’t pull it out of myself. It’s been a long time, taken a lot of punishment. I still love this sport. I love you guys so much, thank you, but this is it for me.”

Those were the words uttered by Miesha Tate in the middle of Madison Square Garden on Saturday night following her decision loss to Raquel Pennington at UFC 205. A knowing embrace following the final bell, kissing Pennington’s forehead and accepting defeat before the judge’s scorecards had been announced, marked the end of Tate’s run as a fighter.

While it might be the final exclamation point on her in-cage career — at only 30-years-old a return can never be completely ruled out — it is not a moment that defines Tate’s near ten year career as a professional mixed martial artist. Not in isolation at least.

Tate will leave the sport as one of the most popular fighters of her generation. Of the current UFC champions only Conor McGregor (2.82m) has more Twitter followers than Tate (675k). Michael Bisping (345k) and Daniel Cormier (376k) both have half as many as her despite combining championship runs with broadcast opportunities on FOX. None of the others come anywhere close. Tate has three times as many as Paige VanZant (211k) even with the exposure the plucky strawweight was afforded on Dancing with the Stars, and 18 times as many as current bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes (36.7k).

A 20-year-old Miesha Tate first made an imprint on our conscious in 2007 when she took part in the HOOKnSHOOT, BodogFIGHT bantamweight tournament. After defeating Jan Finney in the opening round, Tate’s brain was switched off momentarily by the right foot of Kaitlin Young. A knockout so brutal that it could have ruined the career of the 20-year-old prospect before it had really begun.

Foreshadowing what would come later in Tate’s career, her reaction to the crushing defeat was impressive. A loss that Tate refused to let define her, kickstarting further development.

Tate won 11 of her next 12 fights, making her Strikeforce debut in the process. The lone defeat during that time came against Sarah Kaufman, with no shame attached. Kaufman was one of the world’s best and was on her way to becoming Strikeforce’s inaugural bantamweight champion.

The run saw Tate win a one-night tournament in 2010 to earn a shot at Strikeforce’s 135 pound title, before defeating Marloes Coenen to win that belt in 2011. Now boasting a 12-2 professional record, with a win over one of the greatest female fighters of all-time on her resume, Tate could legitimately call herself a world champion.

Strikeforce had recently been purchased by the UFC’s parent company Zuffa, and the future of women at the top end of the sport was uncertain. The UFC had never planned to promote female fights, and there were questionmarks as to how long Strikeforce would stick around before being folded into the UFC, as the WEC had been before it.

Quickly rising through the Strikeforce ranks was a young Olympic medallist named Ronda Rousey. First round armbar wins over Sarah d’Alelio and Julia Budd inside the Strikeforce cage had got Rousey noticed. The scheduling of a title fight between Tate and Rousey was inevitable. So began the perfect rivalry to guide women into the UFC and help them make their mark once they got there.

After four thrilling minutes in March 2012, Rousey torqued an armbar that Tate initially refused to tap to, delaying the stoppage while creating an image even more memorable. This was the first time women had headlined a major MMA card since 2009, when “Cyborg” and Gina Carano met in an equally appealing one round affair. The event’s success forced the UFC to reconsider investment in opening up opportunities for women in the sport.

While Rousey is so often credited with being the one to lead women into the UFC, one can’t help but wonder if it would have taken her longer without Tate playing opposite her. From their first Strikeforce fight to their runs as opposing coaches on season 18 of The Ultimate Fighter, the contrast between the two made everything they were involved in together compelling viewing.

Where Rousey prided herself on proving that the masculine traits traditionally reserved for men could work just as well, and sometimes even better, for women, Tate represented something quite different. Rousey was brash and outspoken, an all-action tomboy. Tate was more respectful, humble and warm, with a girlie-girl appearance. Yet both bought a natural charm and mental toughness with them. They showed everyone watching that women could be anything they wanted to. Between them, they had all bases covered.

The second fight between the two took place in December 2013, now inside the UFC’s octagon. Ronda Rousey vs. Miesha Tate had been the real story of The Ultimate Fighter 18, with the rivals meeting at UFC 168 following the end of the season. This time Tate avoided the armbar until the third round before being submitted.

The event was estimated to have sold over one million pay-per-view buys. While much of that will always be attributed to the main event, a middleweight title rematch between Chris Weidman and Anderson Silva, the numbers that both Rousey and Tate have turned in since, suggest that they played a significant part in focusing so many paying eyes onto the event.

Miesha Tate vs Rousey

Tate lands a left hand in her second fight with Rousey

While Rousey’s dominance continued, it seemed Tate had no route back to a title shot. Just as there had been no quit in Tate in the first Rousey fight, holding out in the excruciating pain inflicted by Rousey’s armbar, there was no giving up on her title aspirations either.

Tate scrapped her way past some of the top bantamweights in the company. Liz Carmouche and Sara McMann had previously challenged for the title, while Jessica Eye was a big part of the UFC’s plans for future contendership too. Tate defeated all of them, as well as undefeated Japanese hero Rin Nakai.

Yet Tate’s run back to the top was about more than winning four straight fights. Against McMann, Tate was being lit up early before making adjustments in the cage to regain control of the fight. Against Eye, Tate was being handily outboxed before she found her timing and landed with fight altering power towards the end of the first round. Tate refused to accept defeat, and had proven to be one of the best mid-fight adjusters in the sport.

That was ever apparent when she finally got her title shot against Holly Holm at UFC 196 in March earlier this year. For almost five full rounds Tate and Holm went back and forth in one of the most fluid championship fights put on by two women in the history of the sport. The ability of both fighters to adapt on the fly, making the necessary changes to turn the tide back in their favour was on a level we had not seen before. Tate eventually submitted Holm in the fifth round when only a finish would have been enough to win her the fight.

The performance proved beyond all doubt how much better Tate had become since her losses to Rousey. Painful defeat had once again become the catalyst for growth. The heart, determination and will to win had always been there, but Tate had worked hard to become a better trained, more athletic fighter. She had also become a better in-fight strategist.

That Tate went on to lose the title to Amanda Nunes on the grandest stage of her career, the UFC 200 main event, can’t be overlooked and is one of a handful of obvious disappointments throughout her career.

On top of that, following Tate’s defeat to Pennington on Saturday night, questions will always be asked. Had she come back too soon after such a crushing defeat at UFC 200? It is impossible to answer accurately. Perhaps Pennington was just too good on Saturday. After all, when Rousey opted to take almost a full year to get over her mortifying defeat to Holm before accepting a booking, people suggested that her refusal to step straight back into the cage was a sign of weakness too. Sometimes you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.

If this truly is it for Tate and we see her pursue other, less physically damaging interests, such as becoming a part of FOX’s broadcast team, it is not a question of whether we remember her for the highest highs, or the lowest lows, because the two are forever entwined. What has truly defined Tate’s career is the way those most traumatising setbacks have only pushed her on to become a better fighter and compensate by overachieving.

Maybe the fact that Tate was unable to do the same after being run over by Nunes at UFC 200 serves as the proof that this is the right time to go. If so we are left with warm memories of a fighter who pushed herself to the limit and drained every last ounce of potential out of herself. Miesha Tate was not a physically gifted athlete, nor was she afforded Olympic level training before she entered the sport. She just worked her butt off to develop, evolve, and become the best fighter she possibly could be.

A top ten fighter on the all-time women’s pound for pound list based on achievement, and one of the five most important women in the still-young history of the sport.

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Fight Announcements

Gilbert Burns vs. Olivier Aubin-Mercier Added to UFC Orlando

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The UFC has now added more bouts to the front end of their 2018 schedule. Gilbert Burns (13-2, 5-2 UFC) will face Olivier Aubin-Mercier (10-2, 6-2 UFC) in Orlando, Florida on February 24th, 2018.

Alongside a few other high-profile fight announcements, is the addition to the UFC Orlando, Florida card. The two lightweights will join Jake Collier and Marcin Prachnio, as the second fight set for the event.

It has been a while since the UFC hosted an event in the state of Florida. Last seen by the Floridians was UFC on Fox: Texeira vs. Evans, on April 16, 2016 in Tampa Bay. The card was a success, despite the cancellation of its planned main event between Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov. Drawing a gate of $1.05 million and 2.13 million viewers.

Gilbert Burns signed with the UFC after accumulating an undefeated record of 8-0. His first loss came in his home country of Brazil, as Rashid Magomedov defeated him via unanimous decision at UFC Fight Night: Belfort vs. Henderson 3, in November of 2015.

In his most recent bout, Burns defeated Jason Saggo by KO with five seconds remaining in the second round at UFC Fight Night: Rockhold vs. Branch.

Aubin-Mercier will come into the contest as a winner in his last three bouts. The Canadian fighter trains out of the Tristar gym, alongside legends such as Georges St. Pierre and head coach, Firas Zahabi.

In 2011, Aubin-Mercier was chosen to compete on The Ultimate Fighter: Nations. Competing in the welterweight bracket, he became a finalist by defeating both, Jake Mathews (unanimous decision) and Richard Walsh (rear naked choke). In the finale, Aubin-Mercier lost to Chad Laprise by split decision.

UFC Orlando will take place at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida on February 24th, 2018.

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Eryk Anders vs. Lyoto Machida Officially Headlines UFC Belem

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Eryk Anders vs. Lyoto Machida is officially booked to headline UFC Belem in Brazil.

Following his unanimous decision victory over Markus Perez on last weekends, UFC Fight Night: Ortega vs. Swanson, undefeated middleweight, Eryk Anders, called for the match-up with former UFC light heavyweight champion, Lyoto Machida. The UFC heard, and obliged.

First reported by The MMA Kings (@mma_kings.)

Anders holds a 2-0 undefeated record in the UFC. The Alabama native made his promotional debut against Rafael Nata in July of this year. A bout he took on short notice, replacing Alessio di Chirico whom withdrew from the fight due to a neck injury. Anders defeated Natal by knockout in the first round that night at UFC Long Island.

Prior to his indoctrination to MMA, the undefeated middleweight played for the University of Alabama football team, between 2006-2009.

Machida recently returned to the UFC roster after an 18-month suspension handed down by USADA, stemming from a failed out-of-competition test leading up to his April 2016 contest against Dan Henderson.

In his return to the octagon, Machida faced Derek Brunson in the main-event of the UFC Fight Night: Brunson vs. Machida, in Sao Paulo, Brazil. “The Dragon” lost the bout via first round KO.

UFC Belem, Brazil is scheduled for February 3rd, 2018, at the Mangueirinho Arena. The card will also feature the flyweight debut for Valentina Shevchenko as she faces Priscila Cachoeira. 

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Announcement

Sensor Equipped Tracking Gloves to be Used at UFC 219

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From implementing the likes of USADA, the UFC Performance Instiute and the introduction of the instant replay. The UFC has always prioritized being at the top of the sport science game. 

Now, at UFC 219 on December 30th, the Nevada State Athletic Commission has approved a test run for sensor equipped tracking gloves to be worn by a selection of fighters on the card.

The technology behind the gloves comes from AGI International (an analytics company) along with HEED (a consumer platform company). A collaboration founded by the UFC.

After a sparring exhibition between top lightweights, Edson Barbosa (19-4-0) and Mark Diakiese (12-1-0), HEED co-founder Mati Kochavi had this to say regarding how “70 insights” collected from sensors on the gloves, the corner-men, the octagon itself can depict a clearer image of a fight.

“Those insights are covering entire aspects  of the fight between Diakiese and Barbose. Their passion, power of the fight, resiliency and strategy. All happen in the octagon.“

Shouldn’t sport be told in real-time, with real data, information and emotions?”

He finally promises “We are a company which is trying to revolutionize the way we (broadcast) sports and live events”

As for now there is little to zero information into the technical aspects of the gloves, however products like a Fit Bit have similar abilities to give data on speed,  force, motion, elevation, heart rate etc.

The UFC 219 card takes place on Decemebr 30th at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. It will be headlined by a women’s featherweight title fight between current champion Cris Cyborg (18-1) and former UFC bantamweight champion, Holly Holm (11-3).

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