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Miesha Tate thinks 'still developing' Sara McMann plays it safe

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

MEXICO CITY -- While Miesha Tate is content with her upcoming UFC 183 fight against Sara McMann, the former Olympic wrestler wasn't Tate's first choice. Rising Brazilian contender Bethe Correia, a striker who's made a name for herself calling out champion Ronda Rousey, asked for the Tate fight but was ultimately unable to accept it due to injury. And while Tate knows a win over McMann does more for her career than one over Correia, she isn't blind to the reality of McMann's unpopular style.

"[Correia] is willing to kind of open up and try things, she wants to try to finish the fight. And from what I've seen of Sara, she's a grinder," Tate said.

"I do (think she plays it safe), and maybe it's not because she doesn't want to finish the fight -- I'm sure if she could get out of there in five minutes, she'd want to -- but I think her skillset, she always just plays to her strength. And that's wrestling. Wrestling determines fights, but it doesn't finish fights typically. So it's a tool that she's probably still developing, she's probably still trying to figure out the submission part of it and add the striking as well, but you know, her bread and butter is her wrestling, so that's what she goes to instinctually."

As the No. 2 and No. 3 ranked fighters in the women's bantamweight division, Tate and McMann now find themselves at a similar crossroads, with each woman traveling down the lonely road back to contendership after suffering UFC defeats within two months of each other at the hands of Rousey.

Tate undeniably did the best of any Rousey challenger, becoming the only fighter to stretch the champion into the third round, while McMann's night ended in an anticlimactic 66-second TKO. Despite this, McMann recently asserted that she is and always will be the toughest stylistic test for Rousey -- a statement with which Tate emphatically disagrees.

"She could've been the hardest test for Ronda. Stylistically, maybe it would've been really hard for Ronda to take it to the ground with her wrestling. But she wasn't," Tate said. "She got caught. And I think that the ref could've probably even let the fight go on a little longer.

"But, you know, the way it played out, she definitely wasn't the biggest challenge for Ronda. I think I'm the only one that's been challenging, pretty much, for her. I made it to the third round and no one else has done that, so I can say that with confidence."

A victory over McMann on Jan. 31 would put Tate at three straight, and would undoubtedly do wonders to aid her quest for an elusive third shot at Rousey. Tate knows the fight would be a tough sell considering the two L's that already line her record against Rousey, but the women's 135-pound division is shallower than most, and Tate remains one of it's most established and exciting fighters, so she believes the fight isn't out of the realm of possibility if she continues to knock off respected names.

"Honestly I think I probably have one more fight after the Sara McMann fight. That's probably what I'm looking at, just because [Rousey and I] have fought each other twice before, so it's a longer road back to the title," Tate reasoned.

"I feel like beating the number-three ranked girl, and her having her the credentials that she has, being an Olympic silver medalist, says a lot about how I've progressed, and similarly the style match-up. If I ever hope to get another fight with Ronda, I have to prove that I can stop takedowns. So this will be a really big testament, and if I can win this fight, it's a huge step in the right direction."