There can be little doubt that the early stages of last Thursday’s Strikeforce conference call were dominated by Miesha Tate.
It wasn’t that Tate got asked a ton of questions by the gathered media. In fact she only fielded a few, but certainly made the most of her opportunities. With the notoriously stoic Fedor Emelianenko showing up some 40 minutes late and Dan Henderson being his mild-mannered, concise self, Tate’s answers seemed notable by simple virtue of their complete sentences and coherent structure. Frankly, she was downright eloquent by comparison and by the time it was done, it was hard not to wonder if Strikeforce didn’t have star on its hands in the 24-year-old Tacoma, Wash., native.
Certainly women’s MMA needs one right now. With the contractual status of middleweight champion Cristiane Santos still in doubt and Gina Carano mysteriously removed from her scheduled comeback fight in June for as-of-yet unexplained medical reasons, the division is running a little short on marketable personalities as it enters what could be a critical time in its development.
UFC President Dana White has long said he doesn’t like to watch “girls fight” and with Strikeforce’s eventual absorption into the UFC appearing inevitable to most observers, there are concerns over the future of women’s MMA at large. Those are concerns Tate hasn't been afraid to meet head on, including during last week’s call.
One of the first questions to her from the media asked Tate to “elaborate” on statements she’d made in the past about White being “ignorant” to the ways of female fighting. In a conference call environment where few pointed or even interesting questions ever get asked, it was a little uncomfortable and almost could’ve passed for a dicey moment, except that Tate jumped all over it with a kind of savvy and poise rarely exhibited by fighters of either gender.
"Saying that Dana's ignorant, I don't mean it as an insult," she said. "I just mean ... I feel like he's not informed, therefore he doesn't know enough about women's MMA to really make a judgment call about it at this point. I feel like with the purchase of Strikeforce he's going to be paying [closer] attention to it. With that in the back of my mind ... it's an extra motivation. It's exciting because now I'm going to have that opportunity to say 'Hey Dana, this is what women's MMA is all about.'"
It was, without question, the single best answer given during the call and essentially fell in line with what Tate has been saying about women’s MMA for the past few months: That, yes, she’s worried about it and she just hopes female fighters get a chance to prove their worth inside the Zuffa empire. That seems simple enough, but in a sport where few fighters on much more stable footing are willing to say things that could even be remotely construed as criticisms of the company they work for, Tate should be applauded for her candor. Not to mention her composure.
She’ll have a stiff test on her hands Saturday when she meets Marloes Coenen for the women’s welterweight title. Coenen is also a particularly good ambassador for women’s MMA and I hope their fight gets even treatment alongside Emelianenko versus Henderson, without any of the backhanded compliments or over-the-top patronizing from the broadcast team that have made women’s fights feel so awkward in the past.
Win or lose, Tate’s willingness to speak out and speak out so effectively is admirable. Hopefully, a year or two from now, we’ll be talking about her as one of the most articulate and talented members of the UFC’s women’s division.