Wrapping up training camp for her fight last November, Miesha Tate felt as though she was taking a promising step back toward the top of the bantamweight division. She was healthy and strong, disciplined and prepared. But as she walked down the Madison Square Garden aisle toward the Octagon to start the UFC 205 main card, something felt off.
There was no fear of underperformance welling up motivation. There was just a disconnect from the relentless competitor within her. The very thing that had propelled her to the greatest heights in the sport just months before was magically, mysteriously gone.
“It felt like I was having an out-of-body experience,” she told MMA Fighting. “I tried to pull it out of myself, but it wasn’t happening.”
As the fight went on, while in the midst of surviving Raquel Pennington’s barrages, she had an epiphany. And when it was over, after losing a decision, Tate, just 30 years old at the time, stunned observers by spontaneously announcing her retirement. As goodbyes go, it seemed too sudden to take root. While most chalked up the impromptu announcement to the emotion of the moment, Tate today remains confident in her decision to walk away, and content in her many accomplishments, including the UFC and Strikeforce championships.
Still, it’s not the end of her association with the sport that made her famous. Earlier this year, with partners Robert Reynolds and Robert Callister, Tate formed AO8 Management to represent fighters.
To date, they’ve signed pros Gina Mazany, Cindy Dandois, and Gustavo Lopez, amateur fighter Cheyanne Vlismas, and recently received a verbal commitment from five-division boxing champion Amanda Serrano, who plans to pursue MMA as a flyweight.
Tate, who took an active role in guiding her own career and helped other fighters in an unofficial capacity over the last few years, has recently thrown herself into a crash course on management, from sponsor pursuit to athlete development to contract negotiations and beyond.
“The reason I wanted to make it my mission is I remember how difficult it was for me in the early days, and I learned a lot during that time,” she said. “I went through the thick of it. I’ve had bad management and great management. Some set the example to follow in their footsteps; others showed what not to do. I had awful experiences being taken advantage of, and I want to make their lives as easy as possible to focus on training. With my partners, we share a vision of supporting athletes to get them to the next level.”
Early support is something Tate and AO8 see as crucial to their philosophy. It wasn’t too long ago when she herself was pinching pennies, trying to decide whether to spend money on the healthiest food available to nourish her body during training or to pay an outstanding balance on a bill.
In most other professional sports, such a dilemma is nearly nonexistent, but in MMA it’s a far-too-common occurrence. Tate says fighters took a hard hit to their wallets when the UFC and Reebok signed a much-maligned sponsorship deal that disallowed athletes from selling advertising space on their cage attire or cage banners. That development was soon followed by an exodus of many managers, who rather than get creative with marketing, moved on from the sport.
Where most saw trouble, Tate saw an opportunity. And when she met Reynolds, whose eponymous firm manages popular rock bands The Killers and Imagine Dragons, they discussed the possibility of working together to represent athletes. At the time, Tate was in the midst of her fight career, but she tucked away the idea, and after retiring, circled back to him about revisiting it.
Now, upon starting, Tate knows her name alone will open doors with prospects and targets, but she's not content with being a conduit.
“I think managing fulfills the competition need for me,” she said. “I still feel like I’m conquering things. Part of being a fighter is conquering not just an opponent but yourself. You have to dig so deep sometimes and you have to conquer fears and different parts of yourself both emotionally and physically. It’s addicting, that growth. But now I feel I’m doing that in a different realm. It’s not physically competitive but emotionally and mentally, I still feel very competitive. I want to go out there and walk down sponsors. I want to get the best for my athletes so I’m still competing, but in a different way, in business.”
Mixed martial arts has historically been a male-dominated sport, but Tate was part of the group that helped shatter the glass ceiling. Management in the sport has also heavily skewed male. In recent history, only a handful of female managers have achieved any notable success, among them Shari Spencer, who worked with Georges St-Pierre and Frankie Edgar; Ana Claudia Guedes, who has long guided former heavyweight champ Junior Dos Santos; and Tina Vidal, who managed Yoel Romero and Jorge Masvidal, among others.
Now, Tate brings the same work ethic that allowed her to reach the heights of the sport to the boardroom in hopes of becoming a manager to rival or even exceed the sport’s most notable names.
To her benefit, she has pre-existing relationships with both UFC and Bellator management, as well as with other organizations such as Combate Americas, and she’s already experienced the heated discussions that are common to contract negotiations.
“I’m confident,” she said. “I know my sport. I know my athletes, and I do not mind fighting for what I believe for them, but I’m also not delusional in the sense where I think a fighter that’s worth $10,000, I’m not going to ask for $100,000. I’m reasonable, but I’ll stand my ground for what I know is fair.”
Tate’s small stable should be increasing in the coming months as she begins to scout and research upcoming talent. In the future, the firm may even venture into different athletic endeavors. And as she begins to creep up on a year out of MMA and away from the spotlight, she says she’s never wavered on her surprise announcement.
There is no comeback coming. From here on in, it’s Miesha the manager.
“So far I’m feel really confident with my decision,” she said. “I feel that everything that I have going on is awesome and I feel very fulfilled. I don't feel like I’m missing something. I think after 11 years of competing, after capturing the Strikeforce title, the UFC title, and doing years of wrestling before that, I think half of my life was dedicated to combat sports. I don't feel like I’m missing out or that I didn't do it all. It was like, I’ve reach the point it’s time to transition and that’s OK. I feel really happy to be in the position I’m in, and I’m excited to help fighters achieve the dreams they want to achieve. Everything is good.”