On March 5th, 2016, Joe Rogan stood across from Nate Diaz and told him “you just shook up the world.” Nate gave back a memorable response, saying he wasn’t surprised (he may have put it more colorfully, but let’s keep things PG). Diaz had just choked out Conor McGregor via rear naked in the second round despite being a +340 underdog. Even still, it wasn’t the most surprising submission finish of the night.
That came during the co-main event, which pitted Miesha Tate against newly minted champ, Holly Holm. Holm was coming off her spectacular head kick knockout of Ronda Rousey in the biggest championship upset in UFC history. She was a heavy -300 favorite going into her first title defense against Ronda’s old rival in Tate.
After all, the MMA Math Calculator Crew were quick to point out that Miesha had lost twice to Rousey, getting finished via armbar both times. If Miesha couldn’t beat Ronda, how could she beat the woman who decapitated her with her foot?
Well, MMA Math doesn’t work. Miesha Tate found a way to win, catching Holly in a rear naked choke in the fifth round. “Cupcake” finally claimed gold after a storied UFC career that saw her fight against Cat Zingano, Liz Carmouche, Jessica Eye, and of course, her Ultimate Fighter coach and forever arch nemesis, Ronda Rousey.
UFC execs and president Dana White were likely foaming at the mouth after Tate’s surprise win, as it set up a potential trilogy bout with their “Rowdy” cash cow. The MMA gods had something else in mind, though. That very same UFC 196 card featured two other notable female fighters, some chicks named Amanda Nunes and Valentina Schevchenko.
Nunes wound up beating Shevchenko that night, and as the saying goes, the rest is history. Like Holly Holm’s title run, Miesha Tate’s was short lived. She lost her belt the same way she won it, getting choked out by Nunes in the very first round. Nunes would go on to embarrass Ronda Rousey in her first title-defense, officially bringing an end to Rowdy’s MMA career. Tate’s time as champion lasted only five months.
2016 was a busy year for Cupcake. After winning the belt in March and then losing it in July, she finished the year by dropping a decision to Raquel Pennington that November. It seemed like the end of the road for Miesha, who announced her retirement after the back-to-back losses.
Miesha found herself with a lot of options, but always stuck close to the MMA world. After starting a family with partner Johnny Nunez and becoming vice president of ONE Fighting Championship, Cupcake felt the itch to step back into the cage. Earlier this year, after a five year hiatus, Tate made a triumphant return to the Octagon.
Tate secured a TKO victory against Marion Reneu on July 17th of this year. Some speculated that financial constraints were the main motivator for Miesha’s return, but she actually made more as an executive for ONE. Cupcake was very clear about her goals for this comeback: to become the UFC women’s bantamweight champion of the world again.
The world of women’s MMA has shifted dramatically since Tate was crowned champion. As the sports popularity has grown, so too has the depth of talent in the women’s divisions. The road to glory will not be an easy one for Miesha, who faces a tough challenge this Saturday in Ketlen Vieira. It marks the first time that Tate has headlined an event for the UFC since she dropped her title against Nunes more than five years ago.
Vieira is the ideal candidate to truly put Miesha’s comeback to the test. The 11-2 Brazilian brawler has great grappling and attributes to test Cupcake’s mettle, being the larger and younger competitor. If Tate finds a way to win, it will show that she’s still one of the best female fighters on the planet.
While the landscape of women’s MMA has shifted dramatically since 2016, one constant remains: Amanda Nunes. Widely considered the greatest female fighter ever, Nunes is in a position now where few think she can be defeated. For good reason, too. The double champ has looked untouchable since taking the belt from Miesha, beating Rousey, Schevchenko for a second time, Pennington, Cyborg, and Germaine deRandemie. She’s also run roughshod over the featherweight competitors that the UFC has tossed “the Lioness’” way.
Even if Miesha wins this Saturday, dethroning Amanda Nunes is no easy task. Nunes made quick work of her the first time, so Tate would have to make a lot of adjustments to come out on top in the rematch. In the time that she’s been gone, Nunes has only gotten better, staying active and reaching new heights in the sport.
So, can Miesha Tate reclaim her former glory and once again be crowned UFC bantamweight champion? The honest answer is, it’s unlikely. The odds are stacked against her, as the competition is fiercer and the current champ seems like a staple in the sport for the foreseeable future.
However, Miesha wasn’t supposed to beat Holly Holm to become champion. Few thought she could reach the peak of that mountain, and she found a way to do it. She shook up the world once and seems determined to do it again. If she does, it would be the greatest comeback story in UFC history.
First thing’s first, though. She’s got to win this Saturday.