It’s debatable that there have perhaps been more anticipated or more monumental bouts in the history of women’s mixed martial arts than the first time Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate faced off inside the cage under the Strikeforce banner.
When then-women’s MMA poster girl Gina Carano took on Cris Cyborg in 2009 or when Rousey defended the Ultimate Fighting Championships women’s bantamweight title against Liz Carmouche earlier this year, both bouts had plenty of hype and plenty on the line.
Thus far, though, the Rousey-Tate feud has been the defining rivalry as it relates to women’s MMA and it will come to a head once more Saturday night, as Glendale Fighting Club’s Rousey and archrival Tate square of inside the octagon’s caged confines for the UFC women’s bantamweight title in the co-main event of UFC 168 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
It is a feud that dates back to 2012 in Strikeforce, was renewed and taken to another level during tapings for the past season’s “The Ultimate Fighter” and has subsequently involved both fighters’ camps, including Edmond Tarverdyan, Rousey’s lead cornerman, and Bryan Caraway, Tate’s boyfriend and corner.
For Tarverdyan and his stable, it’s a rivalry they’re looking to close the door on — emphatically.
“Ronda is a professional athlete. She knows exactly what she’s doing and she won’t be emotional in there. So, even with all the stuff that’s went on with [the opposing camps] and on ‘The Ultimate Fighter,’ that won’t affect her,” Tarverdyan said. “I want it to be past [us]. They’ve been going back and forth since the [first] title fight and [Tate] knows [Rousey’s] better. I just want Ronda to beat the s--- out of her and let’s be done with it.”
Rousey-Tate II, a scheduled five-round bout, is part of a blockbuster card that some predict to be the largest event in UFC history thanks in large to the main event: a UFC middleweight title rematch between titlist Chris Weidman and Anderson Silva, the former champion and arguably the finest MMA fighter of all-time.
“I think it’s the best fight card that’s ever been put together by the UFC,” Rousey said.
Also featured on the pay-per-view main card will be a heavyweight matchup between top-six-ranked heavyweights Travis Browne and Josh Barnett, a lightweight matchup of Jim Miller (No. 10 in UFC lightweight division) and Fabricio Camoes and a featherweight tilt between Dustin Poirier (No. 6) and Diego Brandao.
On the preliminary card, which airs live on Facebook for the first two bouts beginning at 3 p.m. and on Fox Sports 1 for the next five, notables such as Michael Johnson, Chris Leben and Uriah Hall will take to the octagon.
Glendale Fighting Club’s Manny Gamburyan (13-7) will also be in action, taking on seventh-ranked UFC featherweight Dennis Siver (21-9) in a three-round 145-pound bout that airs on Fox Sports 1. Thus, preparation for Saturday has made for a hectic training camp in Glendale.
“Busy, busy, busy,” Tarverdyan said.
However, though Tarverdyan admits UFC 168 will be a huge night for everyone involved, that hasn’t deterred any focus or altered any preparation.
“It’s great for everyone, it’s a huge event, but a fight is a fight,” Tarverdyan said. “It doesn’t matter where we’re fighting, a win’s a win.”
As it relates to Rousey (7-0), many are prognosticating another victory as the 9-1 odds in her favor attest. Rousey, a former two-time United States Olympian in judo and bronze medalist, has defeated all of her opponents via armbar submission in the first round, including Tate (13-4). Tate, on a conference call leading up to the bout, said she isn’t in awe or intimidated by Rousey and her resume, however.
“I think a lot of people build Ronda up to be this invincible person and that there's no way that she can be beaten. But I don't see it that way at all. I see a lot of holes in her game and I see a lot of ways that she can be exploited,” Tate said. “Just because it hasn't happened yet doesn't mean it won't ever happen, you know what I mean? And I'm going to do something different on the 28th than anybody else has done.”
Tate showcases a celebrated wrestling background, hence her prior “Takedown” moniker, though she now goes by “Cupcake.” However, she doesn’t plan on being an easy win for Rousey this time around.
Tate holds key wins over notables Jan Finney, Elaina Maxwell, Zoila Frausto Gurgel, Hitomi Akano, Marloes Coenen and Julie Kedzie.
The victory over Coenen, which came via fourth-round arm-triangle submission in July of 2011, garnered Tate the Strikeforce women’s 135-pound title, which Rousey wrested from her in Tate’s following fight.
Tate’s win via armbar submission over Kedzie is August of 2012 was bookended by the loss to Rousey and a technical-knockout loss to Cat Zingano in the UFC in April. A riveting back-and-forth battle, the fight saw Zingano come out on top and earn a shot at Rousey’s championship and a spot coaching opposite her in the 18th season of “The Ultimate Fighter.” But after Zingano injured her knee, Tate was given the title shot and the coaching position on ‘TUF.’ What followed thereafter was a season brimming with heated words, confrontations and nonstop tension.
Though Rousey already has a victory over Tate in her rear view and the confidence of many pundits, she isn’t taking her rival lightly.
“I prepare for the worst-case scenario always, where she goes on interviews and is like, ‘Oh Ronda’s gonna die out in the first round and it’s really easy to take her back and choke her and she has so many weaknesses.’ She has to talk me down all the time to herself. She has to convince herself that she has a chance,” Rousey said. “I’m constantly talking her up. I believe she’s gonna be in the best shape of her life, I believe she’s gonna be the sharpest of her life. I believe that she’s gonna have a perfect game plan and I [spent] the whole camp focusing on every single weakness I could possibly have and all the defenses. … I’m getting ready for a perfectly trained athlete with a perfect game plan that I’m going to fight for a five-round brawl; that’s what I’m preparing for. What she is hoping for and preparing for, is me to go out there and make stupid mistakes and gas out in the first round. The way that you hear about it is that’s what she expects from me. I expect a lot more from her than she expects from me. That’s why I’ll always be better than her.”
Though Rousey is quick to say how seriously she’s taking Tate’s threat to her title, it’s difficult not to take into consideration Tate’s recent track record of having lost two of her last three and entering the title match after a loss, albeit a bit of a controversial one, as Tate disputed the referee’s stoppage of her loss to Zingano and the legality of the knee strikes used by Zingano that led to the loss.
In many ways, the bout is a reversal from their previous build-up when Tate disputed Rousey’s legitimacy as a challenger. But Rousey, every bit a show woman as much as she is the 10th-ranked pound-for-pound fighter in the latest UFC rankings, is adamant that the timing is right for the rematch.
“I beat her, then she had a pretty embarrassing performance against [Julie] Kedzie and pulled it out at the end and then she pretty much got handled by Cat Zingano. I can’t count on her suddenly turning that around,” Rousey said. “I feel like it’s a fight that the fans want to see because the rivalry is there, the win streak is there and she’s a cute chick. So, I want that fight to happen and the opportunity not to be wasted. I can’t count on her really doing that on her own later, so I’d rather just snatch it up now.”
Tarverdyan simply believes Tate is flat out lucky to be in the situation.
“She’s a very lucky fighter. I’m not impressed by her to be honest,” Tarverdyan said. “I just want her to understand she’s been lucky and I hope she’s grateful to [UFC President] Dana [White] for all he’s done for her. She should be washing his feet or something.”
Rousey and her camp believe that much has changed since the first bout, though, as Rousey has run off victories against Sarah Kaufman (who holds a win over Tate) and Carmouche and has matured as an overall mixed-martial-arts fighter.
“I was only doing professional MMA for a year [when I first fought Tate],” Rousey said. “I’ve now been a pro now for three years and I know that I’ve changed a lot as a fighter. I know that if I fought the me that fought Miesha then, I would beat the s--- out of myself right now. I made some different mistakes then that I wouldn’t make now. I was just a different fighter then. I was just in a rush to get that title shot, because I was broke and tired and I didn’t want to wait.”
One area of criticism for Rousey has been her striking, though those close to her say that, not only has she really had little time to showcase it due to the quick nature of her fights, but that area of her game has improved greatly.
“She’s a way better striker than she was,” Tarverdyan said of Rousey. “The [first] title fight was given to her so early and she won with what she had.
“She had the experience in the cage, Miesha did, and Ronda came out on top. [Now, Rousey’s] a much better fighter than she was when she won the title.”
All the heated words, real animosity and feuding aside, the Rousey-Tate rivalry is set to do the same thing it did in the combatants’ prior engagement in terms of growing women’s MMA.
And even though women’s MMA is seemingly healthier and more popular than ever before, Rousey believes having a championship bout on a card of this magnitude can only grow it more.
“It’s gonna get a lot of people who previously probably hadn’t seen women fight before,” Rousey said. “Anderson Silva fights, everybody will watch. … It’s the absolute best scenario.”
So, the world will watch en masse, tuning in to see a stacked fight card buoyed by perhaps the most anticipated rematch in UFC history with Silva and Weidman and the second chapter in a Rousey-Tate feud that many believe to be one of the most heated in all of MMA lore.
For the city of Glendale, it’s pretty big, too, as Gamburyan and Rousey look to conclude 2013 with an undefeated run.
“It’s gonna be a beautiful night. Get that ‘W’ and have a great new year. ... Finally we are both on the same night,” said Gamburyan, who is thus far 1-0 on the year, as is Rousey. “We were supposed to fight on the same night in February, but I broke my elbow and fractured my thumb and things happened. Now it’s finally happening. Now it’s time, let’s make it an exciting night.”