Miesha Tate fights for respect
Mixed martial artist Miesha Tate believes she has paid her dues in the sport. She also believes her experience warrants a certain amount of respect, and her opponent in Saturday's Strikeforce bantamweight title bout isn't showing enough of it.
"I just feel that, all in all, she's not a good representation for our sport," Tate said. "She knows how to sell a fight, and that's fine and dandy. I feel our skills should come before anything else."
Tate is referring to Ronda Rousey, a brash Olympic judo medalist who called out Tate for a title shot after just four brief but impressive professional fights against non-contenders at a higher weight class (145 pounds).
Tate won a classic fight against Marloes Coenen on July 30, 2011, to take the bantamweight (135 pounds) crown. A rematch pitting Tate against former bantamweight champion Sarah Kaufman was supposed to be next, but Strikeforce scrapped the Tate-Kaufman fight and set up the Tate-Rousey clash instead. And a few martial arts themes will be at play: respect, patience and the "right way" of doing things.
Rousey makes no apologies for insisting on the matchup.
"We're the most marketable ones right now," Rousey told Tate in a live debate on "The MMA Hour" in November while still campaigning for the title shot.
Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker doesn't think Rousey lacks experience.
"When you think about mixed martial arts, you have to think about the entire scope of the athlete," Coker said. "Ronda has been in the Olympics two times and has probably had more mat work than any female mixed martial artist that I know of."
Rousey also shrugged off Tate's criticism that she has been flaunting her looks to get attention -- "You're pretty, too," Rousey said -- and added that she's just doing what's necessary to bring attention to a sport that has gone without a marquee name since newly minted movie star Gina Carano last fought in 2009 and Cris "Cyborg" Santos was suspended last year.
"You're speaking as an idealist, and I'm speaking as a realist," Rousey said in the same interview.
Veteran fighter Roxanne Modafferi sees both arguments.
"I think we do need both people, some to keep it real and some to keep shooting for that ideal standard," Modafferi said. "Without that tug-of-war balance, we have chaos."
Tate is willing to keep playing the idealist.
"If you settle for realism, you're never going to get anywhere," Tate said. "It may not be 100 percent possible, but we've got to strive to reach the ideal; then that will become the realism. Six years ago, the realism was, 'Women's MMA is never going to be on TV.' The idealism was, 'Hey, let's try to get in Strikeforce or UFC or Bellator.' We've created that. Now it's the realism. The goal for me is to get in the UFC. For now, that's not realistic, but maybe it will be."
Tate believes Rousey hasn't respected those who have put in the time to master the diverse skills of mixed martial arts and create opportunities for women.
"We've been making the road that she happily trod up," Tate said. "Then she wants to take the limelight and the credit."
Some may say Tate has gone about things the hard way. A couple of years ago, she was living in a motor home outside her gym with longtime boyfriend, Bryan Caraway, and a friend of the couple's -- three fighters trying to make ends meet on the scant income of mixed martial artists waiting and hoping for their big breaks.
She took her experience from wrestling on a high school boys' team and faced tough opponents, learning about punching, kicking and jiu-jitsu. Her life in the motor home attracted documentary filmmaker James Z. Feng, who includes Tate and Caraway in his soon-to-be-released film, "Fight Life."
"I just saw a great humility in the both of them and their approach to MMA," Feng said. "They loved the sport and really wasn't doing it for the money, and they were such generous people."
Tate endured the early ups and downs in women's MMA. She was battered and bloodied in her first amateur fight. In her first pro event, she had a tough weight cut and earned a grueling win against MMA pioneer Jan Finney. But Tate was wiped out for her second fight of the night (Kaitlin Young knocked her out with a head kick).
Tate also had to build up mental toughness along the way. When Kaufman replaced the less-experienced Kim Couture as Tate's opponent in 2009, Tate said she wasn't sure whether she could compete on Kaufman's level. She lost a close decision and vowed not to have such doubts again.
That experience helped in her win against the fearsome Coenen. Tate exacerbated a knee injury, later diagnosed as a torn MCL, in the first round. In the second, Coenen positioned herself on Tate's back, threatening a choke but also trying to shift weight for an arm bar -- ironically, Rousey's weapon of choice. Tate remained calm, weathered the storm and came back to win with a nifty move to trap Coenen in a choke in the fourth round.
"When you get that little bit of doubt in you, it's like having cancer," Tate said. "It's a little seed that starts to grow, and you have to dig it out."
Tate's immersion in the MMA world has also meant exposure to a lot of techniques and styles. Though she's a strong grappler, she has won a couple of fights by knockout. That's another contrast to Rousey, who has won each of her fights by armbar. Tate said Rousey has shown a lot of technical mistakes that her less-experienced foes have not been able to exploit.
"Fighting is my sport," Tate said. "Ronda's not a fighter yet. She's gone out and played judo against girls who have never played judo and don't have a strong background in that. So she goes out there, she throws them down, she armbars them. Big whoop."
Tate thinks her wrestling background will negate Rousey's judo, but the champion said she'll be happy to make Rousey absorb a few punches and kicks.
"I want to test everything," Tate said. "I want to push her way beyond her limits to the point where she mentally breaks and she realizes she shouldn't have talked so much crap before the fight. She should've been more humble and respectful."