If it were up to current bantamweight title holder Miesha Tate, the lead up to her Saturday title fight with Ronda Rousey would have been much more quiet. She’s not about bringing the smack-talking WWE antics into what she sees as a beautiful sport. But with Rousey throwing the first jab, Tate had no choice but to defend and push back, sending the two into a whirlwind of vicious words for each other.
Tate has been one of women MMA’s top fighters over the past six years, compiling a 12-2 record in that time. Defending her belt for the first time since taking down Marloes Coenen in July, Tate has grown to despise Rousey more than anybody she’s ever fought and is not afraid to be verbal about it. She recently spoke to Complex about how her hatred has grown, why she deserves the title more than Rousey, and what the lowest point of her MMA career was.
Interview by Tony Markovich (@T_Marko)
Who dubbed you “Takedown” Tate?
It came from a wrestling background. I honestly don’t remember. I think it was just like,
“Takedown Tate, yeah, take ‘em down.” It just stuck. Recently I’ve been thinking about changing it. Now that I’ve settled down as the champion, I feel like I have a lot more than the takedown. I might be doing some kind of a contest with my Twitter followers and have them decide a new ring name for me.
Do you have any in mind?
One I liked was “Trail Blazer,” because I feel like I’ve been burning a trail for women’s MMA, setting the pace, raising the bar and blazing a trail. It just kind of goes with my last name, so, I think it’s kind of cool. We’ll see.
What is your biggest fear?
Needles. I hate ‘em. I do my best when I have to get my blood work done for my fights, but I used to be a lot worse about it. I used to hyperventilate and freak out, but I’ve gotten over it. I’m one of those mentally tough people that tells myself that I can’t have a phobia. It’s an unrealistic fear, like “What are you so afraid of?” and I beat myself up about it. I made myself stop being such a wuss.
I realized that it wasn’t so simple as getting punched in the face. That was so narrow-minded. It was about the sport and the beauty of it.
When did your fear of needles begin?
When I was about five, I got really really sick. I had Reye’s Syndrome and chickenpox and some other sickness all at once. I almost died. I went to the hospital and when my mom had called and told them that I was really sick and running a fever, they told her to hold off and told her to give me aspirin. Turns out that was the worst thing they could have done, because it thinned my blood more. Anyways, she took me into the hospital and I was really dehydrated, so they got an I.V. into my arm and they were trying to pull some blood to test it. Once they were done, the lady pulled it out. At that point all my veins were so thin that they collapsed, and they couldn’t get any more needles into me. I couldn’t keep anything down, I would just puke it up, so they needed to get I.V. fluids into me. You know that thing that they leave in your arm and just switch tubes? Well, she accidentally pulled it out. They would come in every hour, and I would wake up to five or six nurses holding me down and sticking needles in my ankles, wrists, the top of my hands, the crook of my elbows, just anywhere trying to get an I.V. into me.
As a kid you wake up and everybody is holding you down, it’s like “Oh my God, what are you doing to me?” That was the worst, so I think I’ve been mortified of needles ever since then. And I also had to get a spinal tap on top of that, which was one of the most painful things I’ve ever felt. I actually passed out. It was excruciating. I felt like I couldn’t move at all, like I was paralyzed. So I think that’s where my phobia comes from, but I think I’ve gotten over it pretty well now.
Was the spinal tap the worst pain you’ve ever felt?
Yeah, probably. It was really painful. I think they had to get some of the spinal liquid to test, and it felt like somebody was breaking your back. They stick that big needle in you, but they’re holding you still because something could go wrong if you move. I don’t think I could have moved anyways, because the pain just froze my whole body and I passed out. I woke up in my room and I was so sick. They say that’s one of the most painful things, more so than an epidural, because epidurals are putting the fluid in, but spinal taps are taking that out. Maybe that’s partially why I’m so tough.
You said you fell into MMA and that you were hesitant at first. What changed your mind?
At first, I had zero desire to get punched in the face. I didn’t care about learning the stand up, I just had no interest. I’m like, “Why would you want to do that? I don’t want to get hit in the face.” I was dead set against fighting, I just wanted to learn the Jiu-Jitsu. What really changed my mind was when I watched my first fight card. It was just an amateur event, but I had never seen MMA at that point. I had never seen UFC, I didn’t know what it was about, so I had this ignorant idea in my head about what it was.
When I watched them fight and watched some of the guys that I’d trained with, I saw their passion. I realized that it wasn’t so simple as getting punched in the face. That was so narrow-minded. It was about the sport and the beauty of it, and I saw the mixed martial arts aspect and really started to respect and admire their passion and drive for the sport. I thought, “If they can do it, I can do it too.” I was totally newly inspired. By the end of that fight card, the ref announced that he was having an all-female fight card in three weeks, so I just decided to do it. I just jumped right in, feet first. Three weeks of stand up training was all I had, so I fought my first fight with knowledge of wrestling and very basic submissions.
So you went from not wanting to get punched to being in a fight within three weeks?
Yeah, it was just being exposed to it. The sport is so beautiful that I think it speaks for itself, but when a lot of people never seen it or experienced it, they have a bad image of it. They think "human cock fighting" and this and that, but I had so much admiration for the people that had been working so hard and seeing that it was about the ultimate competition. It’s just you and the other person in there, and you have a number of ways to beat them. It wasn’t about the violence anymore, and that’s something I realized. For me, it’s about the sport of it.
What has been your lowest point throughout your fighting career?
There’s never been a point where I was like, “I don’t think I’m going to do this anymore, I don’t think it’s for me,” but I have hit low points. One of my worst was when I fought a tournament for Bodog. It was my pro debut against Jan Finney. There was no sanctioning back in 2007, so it was in Evansville, Ind. and they just kind of made up the rules as they went. It was totally different back then. I cut too much weight for that fight. We went three rounds, and the judges were arguing about who they thought won. They couldn’t make a decision, so they just wanted us to go four rounds. We fought another, and they still couldn’t figure it out. We were looking at each other like they were crazy, because this was a tournament. We had to fight potentially two more times that night. The referee thought it was ridiculous too, so he didn’t want to make us go another round. He just decided that he had the best seat in the house and he felt that he knew who won, so the judges let him pick. He raised my hand, which was an awesome feeling, because it was a serious battle. She laced me with some hard leg kicks and at the time was known as the hardest hitting woman in MMA. So, for my pro debut, it was a pretty tough fight.
That's crazy they didn't have protocol for that yet.
Then, I had about 20 minutes before I had to go out and fight again, and I was so tired, because when you cut that much weight, it can have terrible effects on you and your athletic performance. I was walking around at roughly 152 lbs and I cut down to 134 inside of two weeks. By the time I hit 147, I was thirsty, and from that point on, it was pure water weight. I wasn’t eating, I wasn’t drinking, and I was just sweating. I don’t sweat very much, so for me, it was difficult to get all that water weight off. I was delirious. I literally thought I was going to die. [Miesha’s boyfriend and UFC fighter] Bryan [Caraway] locked me in the sauna and said that I couldn’t come out until I did 100 jumping jacks and 50 push ups. I waited, and after four rounds of war, I fought Kaitlin Young, who had a lucky first fight with Suzie Smith, who had never fought an MMA fight in her life before. Young was able to finish the fight in about 18 seconds. She just put some punches and knees in the girl’s face, and she was done.
So Kaitlin and I were in round two, and I tried to take her down, but she grabbed onto the rope. So, I set her back down, and my body just hit a wall. My leg was already swollen and turning black and blue from the kicks, and I’d lost any explosiveness that I had. I was gassed and when I went to stand back up, she kneed me in the head and knocked me over sideways. I tried to get back up, and she was loading this kick from hell. I could see it coming and knew it was a 10. So, I made a simple mistake and started to reach out instead of blocking by my head, but she caught me with a head kick and completely knocked me out.
I woke up with people in my face asking me where I was, and I knew where I was, but I couldn’t think of anything to say. I couldn’t come up with any words, and I got up dazed and was just thinking, “What the hell just happened?” I didn’t remember the fight with Jan Finney, and when I went back in the room, I was asking Bryan what happened. I had no idea. He was trying to tell me, but it was like a story that I’d never heard before. Once it hit me what had happened, I just started crying, because I’d really thought that Jan Finney was going to be my toughest competition. I thought that I could win the whole tournament, I was totally broken and disappointed in myself. It was a time to pick myself up and get back to training, so that’s what I did. I was determined to come back and win.
You know what, bitch? The most you can take credit for is 50 percent, because it takes two to tango, and if it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t be getting this opportunity either.
On to the #rouseystomp. Tell me about that.
This guy on Twitter actually came up with idea. He was like, “What’s Ronda know about the Rousey stomp? You’re going to stomp her” and so on. I thought it was really funny, so I just started saying it at the end of some of my tweets and comments, so people picked up on it. The guy, his handle is @JrNembhard, is the president of our club. So, that caught my attention and I’ve been promoting it ever since.
How does this fight compare to any other fight you’ve had in your career?
It’s bigger, it’s more important. There’s a lot more riding on it and it’s different because I really don’t like her. Don’t like is probably an underestimation of how I really feel. I can’t stand her. I think she’s self-centered, self-righteous, self-entitled, and I think she’s cocky and arrogant and those are all things that don’t constitute a good person. I have never felt this strongly about anybody that I’ve fought before, so I don’t know what to expect from myself. I have to be smart and not get overzealous, but I really want to hurt her.
I talked to her last week and she was explaining that that is just how she talks to everybody, even to her teammates in the gym, but people don’t realize that.
Yeah, and I just don’t like it. She’s so cocky, and people get tired of it. At first a lot of people thought it was funny, but then people started to get over it and thought she was running her mouth way too much. A lot of people on Twitter have been hitting me up saying that they used to be fans of hers, but now they want me to shut her up. That’s how I feel about it too, enough is enough.
What’s the most personal comment she’s made to you?
There are two. One was when she said she could beat me and my boyfriend in the same day. You can talk all the trash you want about me, but don’t call out my boyfriend or my loved ones. There is nothing that he can say that would make him look good or be able to defend himself. She’s just picking on him for no reason. He would throw her on her head and submit the shit out of her. So, she’s an absolute moron and complete idiot to even consider calling him out. That automatically discredits anything that she says from there on out. He competes in the UFC, he just got off of the Ultimate Fighter, he’s 1-0 in the UFC, and for her to call him out is so stupid.
The other thing was her saying it took her six months to achieve what I have done in six years. That pissed me off. Six years ago this sport of women’s MMA wasn’t anywhere where it is right now, because we had to work so hard, all of us, not just me. We’ve been knocking at the door for so long and have been begging for that opportunity, and we finally got it through determination and laying that ground work. Then, she just trots right up the road that we’ve been paving, gets to the top, and says, “All you girls should kiss my ass and be thankful, because if it weren’t for me, we wouldn’t be getting this main event and all this publicity.” I’m thinking, "You know what, bitch? The most you can take credit for is 50 percent, because it takes two to tango, and if it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t be getting this opportunity either."
Having that level of disrespect, I feel like she has no clue how it was that long ago. Six years ago things weren’t even the same for the men’s MMA. I have been busting my ass for so long to be able to get this the right way. I didn’t run my mouth and I didn’t make it because I’m pretty or marketable. I put my nose to the grindstone, I trained, and I beat the girls that were required to become a legitimate No. 1 contender. Then I won the title. Not only did I win it, but I submitted a girl who at 19-4 at the time had never been submitted and was known for her submission game. I’m not here by accident, and I didn’t talk my way into it. I have a big loss of respect for her after wanting to take the credit. Get over yourself.
She brought up that you have flip-flopped about why she got into the fight.
I think the selling point and the marketability of her interested Strikeforce, and the fact that she was talking so much shit and getting people interested made her more likely to get it, too. People like drama for some reason. That’s why the WWE is so popular. It’s just a big drama fest. To me, this sport means a lot more than that. I’m not just a fan. I actually put in the time and work and have so much respect for any person who gets in the cage. It’s kind of disheartening at times to see that somebody can literally talk their way into a title fight.
I understand that there’s an entertainment aspect, but she’s not the No. 1 contender. I hate that she can say what she wants, and people believe it. She’s just creating more hype. I feel you should be the No. 1 contender because you proved it. She hasn’t yet. She’s done great things, but if you do your research, the people she’s been fighting are not even close to No. 1 contenders. If that’s the case, then Joe Schmoe can come off the streets and run his mouth all day long and get in a fight. Even if you had the skill set to beat the champion, you should still have to go about it the correct way. You have to work your way up. She didn’t do that process, so that’s irritating to me.
Rousey said that she’d like to be the new front woman for MMA. How does that make you feel?
I don’t want that. I don’t feel that what she stands for is right, and she doesn’t understand the big picture. She’s not as good of a representation for women’s MMA as I am, because I believe you should earn your way. If I were 4-0 and I would have run my mouth to get into this fight, I think I would have lost, because I wouldn’t have been prepared. Nothing I’ve done to this point has been a fluke, so I’m ready. She’s just rude, and I don’t want that to be the face of women’s MMA. It doesn’t do us justice. She’s also self-centered. She doesn’t care about the future of the sport, she’s about Ronda. To her this is secondary. Competing in the Olympics for her is the highlight. Even if she wins this world title, she said it doesn’t compare to her medal. This means everything to me, because there is no secondary. It’s my passion, my heart, and my career. I think I deserve it more than she does.
She actually told me that winning a medal isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and that MMA is her passion now.
She said she’s more passionate, and I do see that. She said she was training all the time for one day in the Olympics. But somebody asked if she won the title belt would it compare to the medal. And she said not really, because you train for so long for one day, and being in the Olympics is such a high level that even winning a world title probably wouldn’t compare for her. With that in mind, it doesn’t mean as much to her as it does to me. I don’t have anything else to compare it to. I feel I want it more than she does.
I don’t feel that what she stands for is right, and she doesn’t understand the big picture. She’s not as good of a representation for women’s MMA as I am, because I believe you should earn your way.
She feels that you discounted her medal and in the process disrespected your country.
That’s just silly, because I never did. The media has a great way of twisting things that you say. I always gave her credit, because any Olympic-level athlete deserves credit. Granted I don’t like her, but she did accomplish something great. I was just surprised to learn that they give out two bronze medals. I thought when she said bronze, that meant third. When I found out she took fourth, I just said it. If she wants to take offense to the truth, then I’m sorry. That’s all I said, nothing disrespectful or saying that it wasn’t great. But fourth is not third.
So you don’t feel that the bronzes are equal?
No, because she lost that match. She took fourth because she lost. I felt like she was implying that she took third.
You’ve said you think Ronda’s going to tire out quickly. Why do you feel that way?
Cage time in invaluable. You can’t recreate it. I don’t care how much you spar, how much you grapple, how much you do judo, when you’re in the cage and the lights are on you in a high pressure moment with the cameras in your face, it’s different. Fighting on this level is a big jump for her. She’s used to being a sprinter, finishing quickly, but I don’t feel that she can be as confident in the second or third round. When she’s not able to do to me what she’s done to everybody else after those first few minutes, it will change. It will raise some doubt in her mind. The longer the fight goes, the worse off she’ll be.
Ending on a much lighter note, what’s up with your obsession with cupcakes?
I love them! I want to have a bakery of my own someday. That’s a goal of mine. I consider myself a bit of a cupcake connoisseur. I always like to go around and try cupcakes wherever I travel, and I just love them. They are one of my favorite things to eat post-training or post-fight.
When did that start?
I’ve always been into cake since I was a little girl. I used to bake a lot with my mom and decorate cakes. It’s just one of my biggest hobbies. They really became popular these last couple years, so there’s been a lot more access to them.