Pioneers are an integral part of any sport’s history.
They are the athletes that paved the way for others to be able to make a living doing what they love. In one way or another, they have forever impacted their craft for the better. Long after they are gone, historians will still be talking about the impact they made to elevate the game to the level it’s at now.
Every sport has them.
In basketball, there is Michael Jordan, who not only transcended the game, but brought the concept of a major endorsement deal to athletes in all sports. Wayne Gretzky brought hockey to the non-traditional, warm weather market, and Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball. Without these men, none of those sports would be where they are today.
And without Miesha Tate, women’s MMA wouldn’t be where it is today.
Tate is a former Strikeforce champion, and in 2011, she was named the Female Fighter of the Year at the World MMA Awards. She has a wrestling pedigree, unlike most females in her sport. She captured the state high school wrestling championship, and then in 2008, she won the Senior Women’s Gi division at the FILA World Team Trials.
She’s also one half of arguably the biggest fight in women’s MMA history—the same fight that spawned what is easily the biggest rivalry in women’s MMA to date. On March 3 of this year, Tate lost her belt to rival Ronda Rousey in what was only the second female headlining fight in Strikeforce history. The rivalry lives on, and with a win Saturday night, Tate will be hopeful to earn a chance to get her belt back.
“I think our rivalry has helped gain interest in women’s MMA,” Tate said of Rousey in an exclusive interview with the MMA Corner. “I think the drama between the two us was something a lot people really fed into, and there was a lot of energy around that fight. Anyone who was a part of that—or noticed or discovered women’s MMA through it—I think they found it entertaining and exciting. At the end of the day, we are entertainers. We go out there and we fight, but people want to be entertained.
“I think that was the biggest fight in women’s MMA to date. We definitely did something for the sport. We raised the bar of expectations and actually gained a lot of fans. People were left saying ‘not only can these two ladies talk it up, but they get in the cage and they’re super tough and talented.’ I think overall, that was a success.”
Aside from the rivalry with Rousey, Tate doesn’t take her role as a pioneer or role model lightly. She has gotten involved with charities, most notably Autism Speaks, as a way to give back. She also knows that through her performance in the cage, and the way she handles herself outside of it, she’s helping to change the opinion that women aren’t capable of the same things as men.
“Some of the biggest compliments that I’ve received are hearing parents tell me that I’m a role model for their child, or their daughter really looks up to me, or daughter wants to get into wrestling, or get into MMA, or they already are. They’re doing this and accomplishing that,” said Tate. “I think it’s so great that I’m a small part of inspiring our youth to go for it, and also opening parents’ minds to allow their daughters to do that, because even in just my generation there were a lot of girls that were like ‘I really want to wrestle, but my parents won’t let me because girls shouldn’t do that.’
“Parents who have kids now that are five or six or ten, they’ve kind of realized like ‘Wow, look at Miesha Tate, look what she’s doing in this sport, that’s kind of amazing. I don’t think I’d mind if my daughter did that. There is a place for women there.’ They’re not holding their children back because they’re girls. You shouldn’t set boundaries for your daughter that you wouldn’t set for your son, just because she’s a girl.”
On Saturday night, there will be four women fighting on the Strikeforce card, which will be the third event headlined by women—this time, Rousey and title challenger Sarah Kaufman. Before those two go at it, though, Tate will be taking on Julie Kedzie.
“I think my strongest match-up with her, versus her weakest link, would probably be just the fact that I have a wrestling background,” the Washington native said. “I don’t think the takedowns will be too hard, if I want to take it to the ground. I really think that I can do whatever I want to do. I haven’t really come up with a for-sure game plan yet. I’d like to finish the fight with strikes, but if there’s a submission there I probably would take it, but I’d like to finish the fight on either on the feet or with a TKO.”
In a fun twist of fate, the fight will go down on Tate’s birthday. While the prospect of being locked in a cage with someone trying to render you unconscious on a day where you should be blowing out candles and enjoying a piece of cake wouldn’t be too enticing to most, the soon-to-be 26-year-old begs to differ.
“I thought it was kind of cool actually,” she said. “At first, I was like ‘do I want to fight on my birthday?’ Hell yeah, fighting on my birthday will be really cool. I’m going to have a sweet after party, and have fun from there on out and enjoy the rest of the summer. I think getting a victory on my birthday will be the best present to myself. Making a splash and making a big comeback will be awesome.”
If Tate has it her way, and she celebrates her birthday with a win over Kedzie, the best birthday present may come a few months down the road in the form of a rematch with Rousey. Not only will she have the chance to get her belt back, but the next chapter of the biggest rivalry in women’s MMA will be underway.
Top Photo: Miesha Tate (Esther Lin/Showtime)