"A lot of people just dismissed women’s MMA" - Exclusive interview with Miesha Tate
Miesha Tate is a household name among MMA followers, and is one of the most recognizable faces in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Miesha is one of the best pound for pound female fighters in the world and is also a former Bantamweight champion. She is also currently one of the two coaches on The Ultimate Fighter 18. This Sportskeeda correspondent had the opportunity to speak with the champion fighter, and below is the complete transcript of the interview:
Hello Miesha. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk to us. How are you doing?
I’m doing very well, thank you.
I’m a huge MMA/UFC fan, and also a big fan of your work. It has been a treat to see how you’ve evolved and have become such an all-round performer through the years. You are one of the most popular female fighters in the world, and have been hailed as the person directly responsible for the growing awareness about MMA’s female players. Why do you think it took such a long time for the women’s division to get attention in the world of MMA?
That’s a very good question. I think that in the beginning, a lot of people thought there just weren’t enough women, or that women couldn’t fit in. A lot of people just dismissed women’s MMA, and said, “It’s not good”. They didn’t really give it a chance, and Dana (White) kind of had that feeling too.
He saw a lot of women fight at one time; it was a horrible mismatch, and after the bout, he really had no interest in promoting women’s MMA or anything about it. It wasn’t until Ronda Rousey and myself started making some waves that things started changing. We really had a rivalry going into our first fight. We were talked about; people were interested in seeing our fight, and we lived up to it. I think it was a great fight which changed Dana White’s mind, and I think we displayed the fact that women are tough and that they’re skilled.
We’re professional athletes and the change had its demands, and it was exciting. We’re in the entertainment business and we did our jobs well. We trained very hard for that fight; we went out there and put our hearts on the line and we showed everyone (that we can put up a competitive display).
How different and/or difficult is it for women in MMA as compared their male counterparts?
It’s definitely different. It was harder in the beginning – I’ve been doing this for about seven years and in the beginning, it was harder to find fights. It was frustrating because people didn’t take us seriously. Even when we did get a fight, we tended to slip down the card with the men and it was looked at like a spectacle or some kind of a circus show.
We weren’t looked at as legitimate athletes, but like, “Oh yeah, you know, let’s put some women on there like a funny little teaser”. It was frustrating; I felt like it was disrespectful. I work really hard just like the guys do. Just getting that acceptance, that acknowledgement for being the professional athletes that we are – it took a long time, and it was a frustrating process. But now we have arrived in UFC, and they’ve actually given us full support.
The one thing I love about UFC is that when they decide to do something, they don’t “kind of” do it. They do it 100%. And when they decided to take on women’s MMA, they did it 100%. The very first women’s fight headlined the event, and it was really an amazing feat! They gave us the full support and the opportunity to shine, and that’s exactly what we’ve done with that opportunity.
Can you take us through your preparation and conditioning for a big bout? How important is mental fitness for you, in addition to physical fitness?
I think it’s huge. Everyone in the UFC who has gotten to that level has trained very hard; we’re very tough and we’re very talented, and everyone has to have a good skill set in order to get to the UFC. But not everyone trains for the mental aspect, and the mental aspect is more important than the physical (fitness). I think having that mental ability of never giving up, never quitting, is crucial – when you really want something, you’re just going to give it all that you can.
I think it’s more important than physical fitness, because your mind controls your body, and if you don’t have your mind in the right spot, then it really doesn’t matter. All the physical tools that you have are of no use if you weaken your mind and you give up.
You’ve also been an amateur wrestler. How do you think the amateur (wrestling) background has helped you in MMA?
I think wrestling is a great background to have. Personally, I think it is the best background to have because it allows you to choose whether you want to fight standing, or whether you want to take it to the ground. That’s where I think wrestling has the biggest (part) to play in MMA. It allows you to dictate. If you’re a better wrestler while standing and you want to keep it on the feet, you can choose to do that. And if you want to take it to the ground, you can choose to do that too. So I think amateur wrestling is a great background to have and it helps you to make good decisions and earn success.
Why did you make the transition from amateur wrestling to MMA?
I think that when you find something you’re really passionate about, you try to do everything in your power to achieve that. For me, yes, I was an amateur wrestler and I never really thought that I would go into or have a career in MMA. I didn’t see myself as a “fighter” by any means. But when I stumbled across the sport of MMA, I was really inspired and it lit a fire inside me, and I felt like, “I want to do this, I want to try this”. And then I started out as an amateur fighter as well.
I fought as an amateur for about six fights a year, and I didn’t get paid or anything like that. I decided to go pro when my team and my coaches thought that I was ready to do so, and then I just kept going and going, and I kept one foot in front of the other. I wanted to take this dream as far (as possible), but I didn’t know that it would ever get to here – I didn’t know that I would be fighting in the UFC for the world championship, and that I’d coach The Ultimate Fighter (TUF 18). All these amazing things are happening around me, and none of it was planned. I didn’t know it at that time; I just knew that I was following my heart, my ambition and my passion, and it made me happy. Rather than chasing money, I was chasing a dream, which led to my overall success.
MMA is one of the toughest and most physically demanding sports in the world today. What are the precautions that are taken to ensure the safety of the fighters?
Yes, MMA is one of the full contact sports, but it is very safe in the sense that we’re all professional athletes, and that’s the point that sometimes people miss. We know exactly what we’re doing. We’re not only trained how to do offense, but are also trained how to be defensive. We’re trained how to protect ourselves, and one of the primary precautions is having the referee, so that if someone is knocked down or is not able to think clearly, they can stop the fight and protect the fighters.
There are also rules against specific elbows which are more dangerous, and obviously there is no poking in the eye or poking in the mouth or anything like that. Also, they’re very protective of the spinal cord, so there are no hits to the back of the head or down the spine, which is a very sensitive area. These are the rules that are implemented to help the fighters and keep it fair for everyone; that’s another thing that keeps it stringent.
Coming to the current scenario – you are up against your arch rival Ronda Rousey in TUF 18. Can you share your thoughts regarding your TUF 18 experience till now?
Let’s see, where do I start? (chuckles) Honestly, it was challenging. I’m not going to lie, it was one of the hardest things that I had to do, just because coming in, I didn’t know how much emotion would go into it; I didn’t know how much I would care about the fighters. I don’t know if you have personally watched the last episode (spoiler); Cody didn’t make weight, and I’m trying to get him make weight and I’m trying to help him, and he’s our number one pick.
I’m seeing this kid just crumbling under the pressure and the fact that he’s not losing weight fast enough – it’s hard when you’re cutting weight. You’re a professional athlete and you agreed to a certain weight, and it’s your job to make the weight. He’s young, he’s 22 and I think that he made a lot of mistakes along the way. Maybe he ate the wrong food or he didn’t do the things that would make him lose weight – I’m watching this kid’s dream slip through his fingers, and I’ve been there and I know what it feels like. It’s horrible; it’s like your body is telling you that you don’t want to do it any more, but you need to, and it was really hard for me because there was nothing I could do to help him.
That was a very emotional time period – I was angry, I was upset. It was one of the challenges, and you also had Ronda rubbing it in my face, in her typically rude and arrogant way, and saying how it was all my fault. I was trying as hard as I could; I take the responsibility, maybe I should have personally checked his weight every single day. But I’m not his mom. That was one of the most challenging parts of TUF. And also, just dealing with Ronda, you know what I mean?
She’s just not a nice person in my opinion; not just with me but with a lot of people. She’s not nice to you when she thinks that you’re beneath her, that’s what I’ve discovered. If she doesn’t think you’re on her level or above her, she has no time for you. She doesn’t respect you if she thinks you’re below her and she has treated a lot of people on this season like that, and I don’t have any time for that, and I don’t have any respect for her either.
So I basically decided that when I’m with her, I am going to be the same Miesha Tate that I am when I’m not around her. I’m going to be the same; I’m going to have fun with my life, I’m going to smile, I’m going to shake people’s hands because that’s what I was taught in wrestling. It didn’t matter who I was wrestling, what I liked and what I didn’t – you shook their hands and you shook the coach’s hands because that was the sportsman-like conduct, that was the etiquette and that’s what you did. Whether you won or you lost, whether you were ticked off or you weren’t, you just did it.
So I decided, “You know what? I don’t care if it’s Ronda Rousey because Ronda Rousey doesn’t dictate me any more”. She doesn’t make me mad any more, she doesn’t make me sad any more, she doesn’t change the way I do things. And that was my whole outlook and my concept going into this season, and I think it ticked her off that she didn’t have the same kind of emotional control over me like she did before.
You will be facing Ronda for the Bantamweight championship at UFC 168. What are your thoughts about the much anticipated bout?
I think that any time Ronda and I get the opportunity to legally punch each other’s face, it’s going to make for an exciting fight. The stands are going to be the true winners that night and it’s going to be a great fight. I’m going in with the mindset that I can beat anyone, you know, that I can beat the champion and I can be the champion. I’m going to give everything I have in the cage that night, I’m not going to hold back even one percent.
I respect her, but I don’t fear her. I know she has holes in her game and I know that she’s definitely beatable, and I’m working on a really solid game plan, and I’m doing a lot better on this training camp. I’m picking it up better, I’m moulding things and habits that I thought weren’t as successful the first time. The fact that I got so emotional leading up to the fight was partially my undoing last time. I just feel lot more confident going into this fight.
Talking about the last match, was it more about the psychological mind game? What happened going into the last fight between you two? (Strikeforce 2012)
Well, basically what happened was that I was ticked off. I was angry, and felt that a lot of the things that she said were very rude and disrespectful, and to be honest I had never dealt with someone like Ronda. I’ve been competing in a sport in which, up until that point, everyone was respectful and sportsman-like, and I never hated anyone of them. And then Ronda (Rousey) comes along and she was just so different than everybody else.
She was pretty new to MMA so she rubbed quite a few people the wrong way, but I was the one to stand up and be like, “Hey, this is not how it works in women’s MMA. This isn’t a good representation of the sport. You need to pipe down young one, we’ve been doing this for a long time; how dare you come in and be so disrespectful?” I could never imagine being so disrespectful to someone who has been my predecessor for 5 or 6 years in women’s MMA. She didn’t even understand that, and she didn’t understand the work that we put into it.
She just stepped in at the right time and had the right skill set and she has a loud mouth. So in combination, everything just kind of worked out for her. But at that time for me, it was very frustrating, because I felt that she was very rude and disrespectful, and it just didn’t feel right.
How do you manage your personal and professional life? Is it advantageous that you’re currently dating a fellow UFC fighter, Bryan Caraway?
I think so, absolutely, because it would be very frustrating to have someone who didn’t understand exactly what I was going through. It’s nice because I have 110% of his full support all the time, and he respects me.
Every time I have a question, there is someone around the clock who knows what I’m dealing with, like “Today in training, I was doing this instead of that” and what worked better and he’d tell me “Yeah that would’ve been better”. Or at 10 or 11 in the night, I’d be asking questions and learning, so it’s really nice to have someone there that I can do that with.
I appreciate everything he does for me and how helpful he has been, coaching me and helping me cut weight or supporting me during the fights and being a part of my life. It’s good to have that, and it’s a unique balance for some people, but the fact that we share the same passion for the same thing makes it easy for us.
What is your toughest fight till date? And your toughest/favourite opponent (other than Ronda)?
Did I hear you mentioning Ronda? (Chuckles) I’ve had 23 of those things, but I have to pick just one, so let me think. I think my fight with Julie Kedzie, I think that was one of my toughest fights. She was very on point that night and I felt just a little off, probably one of the first fights where I just felt disconnected. I think it was because it was my first fight getting back after the fight with Ronda. I could only fight six months after that loss to Ronda; my arm completely healed after four months which is pretty miraculous, which allowed me to train at a training camp.
But I was so focused about my physical fitness that I didn’t pay much attention to my mental and emotional fitness, so when I went into that fight, I was just, I don’t know how to explain it – on autopilot somewhat. But I went out there, and it was a great fight. She (Julie) pushed me a lot, and I think I won one round and lost the other one or something like that and we went into the third round, and we were pretty even and almost half a round had gone by and all of a sudden, out of nowhere she drops me with a headkick and almost finishes the fight, and I’m like, “Okay”, and I go for the armbar and roll through, and I’m trying to pull the arm and straighten it, and I finally straighten it and she’s still not tapping!
Eventually I put in that extra little inch of pressure and she taps out, close to the end of the round, and I was like, “Wow!” It was towards the end of the round and I almost lost that fight. She’s a really great competitor and she’s been fighting for a long time, so I think that was one of my toughest fights.
Last but not the least, can you shed some light on your new nickname – “Cupcake”? Was it just for fun, or is there another meaning to it?
(Chuckles) There are a couple of meanings, there are about three. The first one is simple, that I just love cupcakes. They’re so adorable and I just love them. Second, I love to bake, and I’ve been baking since I was a little girl. In my free time, it is one of my favourite hobbies, so I even bake cupcakes for friends’ birthdays. Thirdly, and the most important reason or explanation behind it, is that after my loss to Ronda, I felt like I had outgrown my nickname of “Takedown” and I felt like I had become a well-rounded fighter, so I didn’t want a nickname that was hard like “The killer” or “The Terminator”.
It had to be symbolic of my changing heart and how I had a more light-hearted outlook to the sport. I wasn’t going to take it so seriously like I did with Ronda. That was a point when I didn’t enjoy the obsessive intensity of it all, and I wanted to have something that would explain that I had a pure, healthy love for the sport. So I was looking for a nickname, and I remember at the beginning of my career that there would be girls that would look at me and judge me, and say “That girl wears make up, and she wears dresses and she does her hair. She cannot be that tough, and I want to fight her”.
I thought it was so rude and it used to tick me off mightily. And the other word to describe someone who you think is a pushover, who you think you’re going to walk through, is cupcake! So basically they thought I was a cupcake, that I was a pushover and that they were going to beat me easily. And I was like, “How dare you judge me on my appearance?” Just because I like to portray myself more femininely doesn’t mean I’m any less tough. It used to irritate me, but then I guess I decided to look at it differently and was like, “You know what? It’s kind of funny actually. You underestimate me and see what happens. You have to be ready to go when that cage door closes, and I’m coming after you.”
Thank you once again Miesha for spending some time talking to us. It was delightful talking to you. We look forward to your bout on the UFC 168 card, and good luck for the fight.
Thank you very much! Have a nice day!