When it comes to the matter of Ronda Rousey's next title challenger, the UFC certainly has options. Cristiane "Cyborg" Justino remains ever on the periphery of the discussion, and Brazilian veteran Amanda Nunes turned heads with her destructive win over Sara McMann at UFC Fight Night 73.
But Miesha Tate, who has twice lost to Rousey before, believes she's earned the right to be called No. 1 contender.
"For one thing, I've been beating everyone who could potentially deserve a shot," Tate said recently on The MMA Hour. "So you can't tell me that there's a single girl out there who deserves it more than I do right now. I'm confident in saying that because I told everyone that I would work my way back to the title and I would earn that, and I have. I've done it, and if there's someone else who people are questioning, who's like, ‘hey, what about this girl? She might deserve it more.' Then okay, I'll take her out too."
Since stumbling to Rousey in the pair's UFC 168 rematch, Tate has stuck true to her word, fending off all comers with a four-fight win streak over Liz Carmouche, Rin Nakai, McMann, and Jessica Eye. The final win of that run, a unanimous decision over Eye, showcased improved striking power from Tate. And now, after waiting in silence for over a year, she finally believes she's earned the right to ask for what she wants most.
"I'm the only one to even give Ronda fight so far," Tate said. "I think I've already proven that I have something that so far none of the other girls in the division have been able to prove that they have or they possess. Taking Ronda into the third round is no easy feat, but that gives me so much more confidence, and knowing what it feels like to be in there with her, knowing what I'm up against, gives me an insurmountable amount of confidence because I know exactly what I'm getting into."
It's true that Tate seems to approach Rousey differently than any other challenger. Two of the three longest contests of Rousey's career belong to Tate, including Tate's harrowing three-round rematch in 2013. That fight still stands as the only time Rousey has been taken past the first round -- a fact which looks even more impressive in retrospect, considering that Rousey's four wins since have come in a combined two minutes and 10 seconds.
All that success hasn't caused Rousey to rest on her laurels, though. Rousey's ruthless knockout of Bethe Correia at UFC 190 showcased the improved striking that is so often lauded by the champ's trainers, but until then hadn't been seen inside the Octagon.
Yet Tate is confident that when the time comes, her own improvements will rival those of the division's queen.
"I think that Ronda's striking has gotten better, and that she's evolving," Tate said. "But I think I'm catching up to her as far as being a better athlete. I think that's one thing she had a huge advantage with, the type of training, having the experience being in the Olympics, the Olympic training center, things like that and the kind of programs they put those elite level athletes on. I didn't have that before. I thought I was doing it right."
Since her second loss to Rousey, Tate has revamped her strength and conditioning program at Phase 1 Sports in Las Vegas, training alongside professional athletes of various disciplines to help close the physical gap between herself and Rousey. She saw those results come to fruition against Eye, and now she hopes to be the first women who can successfully solve the Rousey puzzle.
"I don't know how to answer the question because I haven't done it yet," Tate said. "Nobody knows the formula. I mean, there is no formula to beat anybody. So no, there's no sure safe answer. There's no, hey, you can only do it this way. It's just one of those things. I guess that's the beautiful thing about fighting, you don't really know exactly how to do it. You can try to make a gameplan, you can try to do everything you can, but in an instant it can all change.
"That's another strength that I have, that I know that I have. The ability to adapt to any situation and find my way through it. That's what got me into the third round with Ronda Rousey, being able to make changes on the fly and have that experience to be able to do that and figure that out. So no, there's no formula. There's no for sure formula to beat anybody. But I think that's I'm definitely the closest so far, and it motivates me. It makes me very confident."