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Robert Follis: Today’s Miesha Tate ‘much better’ than the one who fought Ronda Rousey at UFC 168

Esther Lin, Sportsfile

Perhaps nobody enjoyed this past weekend’s UFC card more than Robert Follis, who coached both Bryan Caraway and Miesha Tate to victories on Saturday night in Chicago. In his biggest test to date, Caraway scored a decision over Eddie Wineland, while Tate overcame a slow start to dominate Jessica Eye in UFC on FOX 16’s co-main event.

Tate’s victory, it was learned later, came with a title shot. UFC president Dana White said that "Cupcake’ is next to get another crack at Ronda Rousey’s belt, should Rousey get by Bethe Correia this weekend at UFC 190 in Rio de Janeiro.

Follis has been with Tate since UFC 168, when she fought Rousey in a rematch from a Strikeforce title fight nearly two years earlier. Though Tate came up short (losing via a third-round armbar), that fight came with a small silver lining.

As has become the rallying card to justify a third fight, Tate lasted longer in the Octagon against Rousey than any of her other 10 opponents.

Will anything be different the next time through? Tate's coach thinks so. Now with four straight victories, Follis believes that the Miesha Tate who fought Rousey in late-2013 is nowhere near as good as the one he’s coaching now.

"[Tate]’s much better," Follis said during an appearance on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour. "I mean, we’ve worked very hard at adding on a deeper level of striking. Her hands are getting better and better and better. We’re adding kicks in a little bit more. Her wrestling is getting better, and we keep continuing to work on her judo. She’s a confident professional, both her and Bryan [Caraway] are constantly looking to evolve their game, which showed up in these fights.

"I mean, this [Eye fight] was a fight where she went out and dominated standing up with a girl I think everybody thought should have won on the stand-up. I think we showed the skills that we’ve been working are definitely showing up in the cage, which is where you need them to."

Follis, who has been known Tate and Caraway since he worked at Team Quest in Oregon a decade ago, now operates in Las Vegas at Xtreme Couture -- a big-name gym that he has helped resurrect. He says he has seen incremental progress in Tate, and that he’s thankful for the opportunity to see how her improvements match-up with Rousey.

Not everyone is as excited. Some fans and media have expressed disinterest in seeing a trilogy after Rousey won the first two bouts so convincingly. And earlier on Monday’s show, Rousey’s coach Edmond Tarverdyan said that -- though he's "excited" for a trilogy with Tate -- that this time he was going to make sure "it’s not healthy for her career."

Asked what he thought of that sentiment, Follis said there’s only one way to find out.

"I’d say let’s fight and see," he told Ariel Helwani. "That’s the great thing. She hasn’t taken years off her career in the first two fights. I mean, she beat her, she got an armbar in both those fights, but I feel like we continue to make progression. We’ve earned a title shot and that’s the spot we’re in. We feel we’re going to go in and dominate, and that’s the way you take fights. So, I would be surprised if they’re really nervous about fighting Miesha because they think she’s really going to hurt our girl.

"We’re excited for the opportunity. I don’t really get into the talking about it. For me, it’s up to me to prepare her, let’s let the fighters go do their thing. That to me is what it’s really about. And I think that Miesha’s proved that there’s not another woman in the division that’s earned a fight with her more, and we’re looking forward to a chance to prove it again."

As for a plan to beat Rousey, Follis said he hopes to fill in some more blanks after Rousey's fight with Correia on Saturday night.

"First I’d like to see what happens with this fight," he said. "Each fight that she has I think gives more things to study and see her tendencies and what she does. I mean, she’s obviously a very talented athlete and a dangerous fighter. To say anything other than that is just silly. But I don’t think he’s unbeatable. I mean, everybody’s got a spot that they can beat, and we’re going to be looking to expose what we think are some of those weaknesses."

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