Anderson Silva had it with Chael Sonnen. Brock Lesnar had it with Frank Mir. Tito Ortiz had it with both Ken Shamrock and Chuck Liddell.

A heated rivalry between MMA fighters is not a new phenomenon. Some would even argue that a certain level of animosity between combatants is not only expected, but necessary to produce the highest-quality competition. Such animosity has also proven to be box-office gold. Take a trip over to the MMAPayout Blue Book and you’ll see that in most cases the highest-selling pay-per-view events featured a fight between two athletes the UFC marketed as bitter opponents who truly wanted to hurt the other person, rather than as hungry competitors just looking to be the best at their sport.

This weekend’s UFC 168 co-main event has a similar ring to it. For months—beginning with the promotional run-up to the 18th season of The Ultimate Fighter and surely continuing past the time when this will be published—the UFC and many of its partners have repeatedly referred to the rivalry between UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey and UFC 168 challenger Miesha Tate as one of the biggest not only in MMA, but in all of professional sports. This pre-existing conflict was only inflamed when the two fighters spent weeks as opposing coaches on TUF 18, during which Rousey made no secret of her feelings about Tate throughout the season. On Saturday, the rivalry we’ve all spent so long hearing about will come to a head in the Octagon, and the UFC would have us believe that Rousey/Tate is every bit the ultra-competitive showdown the promotion has been pushing.

While the two fighters (well, mostly Rousey) have, indeed, created enough heat outside the cage to generate an entire Wikipedia page about their enmity, inside the cage has been a bit of a different story. As you’ll recall, Tate was Strikeforce’s queen at 135 pounds until Rousey came along and pried the proverbial crown from the hand at the end of Tate’s hyperextended arm in March 2012. It was, at the time, just Rousey’s fifth professional fight (and also her fifth consecutive first-round armbar submission finish), but Rousey would successfully defend her belt twice more—first against Sarah Kaufman in her last Strikeforce bout and then against Liz Carmouche when the UFC incorporated women into its ranks earlier this year—and become the face of women’s MMA worldwide.

Tate, meanwhile, would rebound from her loss to Rousey with a win over Julie Kedzie before losing her UFC debut to Cat Zingano, who was then supposed to coach TUF 18 opposite Rousey before getting her own shot at the women’s bantamweight belt. A knee injury scrapped those plans, and Tate was tabbed as Zingano’s replacement. Tate’s familiar name and rightful place near the top of the division’s rankings were likely the primary reasons she was given another title opportunity immediately following a loss in the Octagon, but the UFC no doubt took her relationship with Rousey into consideration when it came to finding an opponent who would help boost ratings both during the season and for the coaches’ showdown. (It turns out the presence of so many outstanding female fighters on the show did its own significant part to boost ratings for the season, but the Rousey/Tate sniping likely had a positive effect on viewership, however minor.)

While the coaching match-up between Rousey and Tate served as a point of intrigue in the run-up to TUF 18 (and generated many headlines in the process), does anyone really believe that Tate stands a chance against Rousey when the cage door shuts on Saturday night? That is, while the UFC and the collective sports media has labeled Rousey/Tate as one of the biggest rivalries in sports, will their actual fight be all that competitive?

The first place we can look for answers is back in time. Despite her notable grappling credentials, Tate had no answers for Rousey once their first fight went to the ground, and although Tate is said to be the better striker, she hasn’t finished an opponent by knockout or TKO since 2009. Rousey, meanwhile, has gone up against some of the top fighters in the still-solidifying women’s bantamweight division and has not only escaped unscathed, she’s dominated all of her opponents. If Saturday’s fight was a boxing match, Tate might stand a chance, but Rousey will close the distance and take the fight to the mat just as soon as she’s able, and it will only be a matter of time before Tate taps out.

The next place we can look is at the betting lines. The folks that put together MMA odds for casinos and online gambling sites are no dummies. They must carefully consider each fight and its participants before arriving at what they think are numbers that will accurately reflect the competition. Generally speaking, the range for MMA lines goes between -300 for the favorite (meaning a person would have to bet $300 to win $100) and +300 for the underdog (bet $100, win $300). As of Thursday, Rousey sits at -750 with Tate at +475 on Bovada. Again, the people behind these odds have done their due diligence, and the fact that these numbers fall so far outside the average range is significant.

Finally, consider the placement of Rousey/Tate in the UFC’s lineup. The fight is not headlining UFC 168, but rather is the co-main event supporting the Chris Weidman/Anderson Silva middleweight title tilt at the top of the card. Of course, the UFC would be foolish not to place Anderson Silva in the headlining spot of any of its events where he is competing, particularly in this case when the former pound-for-pound king is looking to avenge his first UFC loss, but to place Rousey/Tate in a co-main event spot gives the lie to the UFC’s insistence that their rivalry is one of the most fierce in all of pro sports. As it stands, the presence of Weidman and Silva will likely propel the event to achieving one of the top pay-per-view buyrates of the last few years, so the UFC doesn’t necessarily need Rousey/Tate to boost UFC 168’s pay-per-view numbers. In this way, the rivalry loses some of its luster and its one-sidedness is made more clear.

With the rapid growth of UFC events since 2005, surely the promotion could have found another card on which it could showcase Rousey/Tate as the headlining fight. The problem in this case is that Rousey is too big of a draw to be fighting on free television, but her fight with Tate, despite all the hype the UFC and its partners have successfully generated around it, could not carry a pay-per-view event on its own. Some of this is likely due to a UFC women’s bantamweight division still in its infancy, but a large part has to be due to Rousey’s previous success and perceived competitive advantages over Tate.

Who knows, though. Perhaps Tate will find a way to subdue Rousey’s indomitable grappling offense and will steal the title on Saturday night. If that happens, and Rousey’s air of combative perfection disappears, then their rivalry will truly become one of the biggest in professional sports, and one would expect the rubber match to be a highlight of the UFC’s 2014 calendar.

Until then, we would all do well to remember that the Rousey/Tate rivalry is one that exists largely over the airwaves and on social media, and not so much on the mat.

About The Author

Eric Reinert
Staff Writer

Eric Reinert has been writing about mixed martial arts since 2010. Outside the world of caged combat, Eric has spent time as a news reporter, speechwriter, campaign strategist, tech support manager, landscaper and janitor. He lives in Madison, Wis.