On Saturday, Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate will face off for the second time in their careers when Rousey defends her UFC women’s bantamweight title against her biggest rival. The Rousey-Tate rivalry is by far the biggest one in women’s MMA and could be the biggest in sports today.
In its simplest form, a rival is a person or thing that tries to defeat or be more successful than another. With Rousey, however, it goes beyond that.
Her dislike for Tate goes back to 2011, when the two began feuding in interviews and on social media. Tate claimed that Rousey was not deserving of a shot at Tate’s Strikeforce women’s bantamweight title, while Rousey argued that Tate’s style was boring. In terms of drawing eyes to women’s MMA, Tate-Rousey was the fight that needed to be made.
On March 3, 2012, the fight headlined a major MMA card for the first time since 2009. Rousey went right for her signature arm bar, but Tate escaped before gaining control with strikes. With less than a minute left in the round, Rousey secured another arm bar. This time, Tate refused to tap, resulting in a dislocated elbow before she succumbed to the hold at 4:27 of the first round. Rousey was the queen of women’s MMA.
Their paths would not cross again until May 2013, when Tate replaced Cat Zingano as the opposing coach to Rousey’s team on “The Ultimate Fighter.” At that point, they renewed their rivalry.
As they prepare to rematch in the co-main event of UFC 168, both fighters have respect for the other's accomplishments in women’s MMA but have made no changes to their personal dislike for each other. No matter the decision, the eyes of the world will be on women’s MMA in the future, much like other female rivalries have changed the sports world among women.
In the 1970s, women’s tennis was invigorated by a rivalry between Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. Their first matchup took place in 1973, and the two proceeded to play 80 singles matches from 1973 to 1988. In almost one-fifth of their matchups (14 of 80), a Grand Slam championship was on the line. Evert dominated the early part of the rivalry, winning the French Open over Navratilova in 1975, and gaining semifinal victories in the 1975 US Open and Wimbledon in 1976. The two women would meet in the 1978 Wimbledon final, where Navratilova would finally triumph over Evert in a major championship.
As the rivalry moved into the 1980s, it was Navratilova’s time to shine. She won 15 of her 18 singles titles in the 1980s and defeated Evert in the final to win eight. Evert would win three titles by defeating Navratilova in the final. Their last four Grand Slam matchups would take place in the semifinals, with Navratilova holding a 3-1 advantage.
In their 80 matchups, Navratilova held a 43-37 advantage and defeated Evert in 10 of 14 Grand Slam finals. Their rivalry on the court was not matched off it, though, as the two became very good friends over the years.
Two sports figures who were also the center of a great women’s rivalry were UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma and former Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt. While both were centerpieces of the rivalry, the game on the court contributed even more. The Huskies featured Rebecca Lobo, Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird and Swin Cash. The Lady Volunteers were led by Chamique Holdsclaw, Tamika Catchings, Kara Lawson and Candace Parker. The two teams were both perennial contenders for the national title from their first matchup in 1995 to the 22nd and final matchup in January 2007. In four of those games, the national championship was on the line, and UConn won all of them. During the heart of the rivalry, at least one of the teams made the NCAA Final Four in every season. The Huskies won five titles during that span, while the Lady Vols captured two national titles.
Although the teams have not played since 2007, the rivalry still is talked about as the greatest rivalry in women’s team sports. It has also transcended other sports, as the two schools have agreed to meet in men’s basketball and football since the dissolution of the women’s basketball rivalry.
Another rivalry that gained not only the attention of their sport but also national attention was Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan. The rivalry started in 1991, when both women began to place in major skating competitions in the United States and around the world.
In January 1994, the rivalry went to an entirely different level. Kerrigan was struck in the knee while training and had to drop out of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships that were held the next day. Harding would go on to win the gold medal and one of the three U.S. spots, but Kerrigan would also garner a deserved spot from the U.S. Figure Skating governing body. Days later, Harding and her ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly ,were under FBI investigation with other accomplices. Over the course of the next month before the 1994 Olympic Games, Harding continued to practice for the Games while under intense media scrutiny. Kerrigan got back on the ice and eventually to the Olympic Games in February along with Harding.
At the Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, Harding had a disastrous short program when the shoelace on ones of her skates broke. She ultimately finished eighth overall. Kerrigan had a great short program and was the leader going into the long program before finishing second to Ukraine’s Oksana Baiul.
In March 1994, Harding plea-bargained to avoid jail time, and in June, she was stripped of her U.S. title and given a lifetime ban from the U.S. Figure Skating Association. Because of the media attention and Kerrigan’s triumphant return to the ice, figure skating saw a significant increase in fans and viewership during future Olympic competitions.