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Miesha Tate: ONE Championship won’t change philosophy for U.S. expansion, ‘trash talk’ tactics not ‘sustainable’

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Miesha Tate
Miesha Tate
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

ONE Championship has made it no secret that it is their goal to be recognized as the biggest combat sports promotion in the world.

Established in 2011, the Singapore-based organization has since found a foothold in several Asian markets including China, Malaysia, The Philippines, and Thailand, and it recently hosted two major shows, ONE Championship: Century Part 1 and Part 2 in Tokyo. ONE has taken a full-court press approach to broadcasting, landing TV deals in multiple regions including the United States as of last December, when a partnership was formed with Turner Sports to air events on TNT and the B/R Live streaming service.

It’s that deal that could be essential to breaking into the western market. The first part of ONEL Century marked the promotion’s U.S. television debut and the event, which featured former UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson and homegrown ONE star Angela Lee drew a reported viewership of 264,000.

That number indicates there’s a long way to go before ONE makes a dent in the North American market. When that day comes, company vice president Miesha Tate wants it to stick to its publicly promoted values of integrity, honor, and respect. Tate, a former UFC and Strikeforce bantamweight champion, has seen every side of fight promotion and she’s been invigorated since joining the ONE front office last year and relocating to Singapore this past April.

“I love working for a value-based company. And to be honest, I sit back and I think about this, that if I wanted to have my own organization for martial arts, this is how I would want it to be,” Tate told MMA Fighting. “I would want it to inspire people to be the best versions of themselves, about creating local heroes, we don’t call our athletes fighters because they’re more than that. They’re professional athletes. And really, to so many people, they honestly are heroes. They’re iconic. They are what parents want their children to look up to and to strive to be like because they’re really great people.

“And we highlight those stories. It’s not about controversy, it’s not about trash talk or rivalries. It’s really about being the best athlete you can be and inspiring people to dream more and do more and be more in life. I think that’s just a really beautiful process, so I think for me being a part of something like that, I just feel like I’m able to do more good and give back in a more positive light.”

Tate, 33, knows a thing or two about rivalries. Her feud with Ronda Rousey from 2012-2013 brought a lot of eyeballs to women’s MMA as it became integrated into the UFC, and their second fight at UFC 168 was the co-headliner of a card that generated over one million pay-per-view buys. The two did not shy away from firing verbal shots at each other in the media and face-to-face during their time as opposing coaches on The Ultimate Fighter 18.

Ronda Rousey faces Miesha Tate in the UFC 168 co-main event.
Ronda Rousey faces off with Miesha Tate ahead of their co-main event bout at UFC 168 in Las Vegas on Dec. 28. 2013.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Asked if that kind of heated feud building would bolster ONE’s chances of expanding into the U.S., Tate balked at the suggestion, bringing up images of the ugly (and highly lucrative) Khabib Nurmagomedov-Conor McGregor rivalry as the sort of thing the organization would like to avoid.

“We will never change the value base and the marketing base of the company, that’s what ONE Championship is founded on and I think that would just be fraudulent. I think we’ll definitely stay the course,” Tate said. “Here’s what I can say and I truly believe this. When I sat back and I thought about the way that MMA is marketed in the west and the way that martial arts is marketed here, when you have rivalries or people who are throwing dollies through bus windows and you have this extreme trash talk, people are flying out of cages into the audience, sure, is it good for ratings in that moment? Yes it is. But do people start to care more about that than the sport? I believe so. And I believe that when those things are not happening you see huge plummets in the ratings.

“When you see good athletes, Dustin Poiriers and fighters who are awesome, they’re great, nobody cares anymore about those. They want all the trash talk. Here’s what also happens, is that you have somebody who is marketed because they’re a fantastic trash talker and they do crazy things, that only works though while they’re winning. Because people can’t talk trash like that when they lose. So once they lose, it’s not really a sustainable way to do it, so how many people do you think you’re gonna really find that can talk that amount of trash, have that amount of ‘something shiny’ appeal—because I don’t think it’s sustainable as I said—it’s just, it works really, really well in the short term and it doesn’t work well in the long term.”

Tate touts ONE’s stars as “local heroes that have global presence” and that their following is akin to that of team sports fanatics who root for their colors regardless of wins and losses. Burma’s Aung La N Sang is often presented as an example of a ONE fighter who has risen to idol stature in his home country.

At Friday morning’s ONE Championship: Dawn of Valor event in Jakarta, Tate will have her own rooting interests. Her partner Johnny Nunez (7-1) makes his promotional debut in a 170-pound bout against UFC and Pancrase vet Kazuki Tokudome (19-10-1). Despite their relationship, Tate is confident that there are enough organizational layers for there to be no conflict of interest.

“We have our relationship and I think people are really understanding of that,” Tate said. “I don’t think people expect us to distance ourselves. However, I won’t be cornering him or crossing any professional boundaries because of our personal relationship, but of course, I’m emotionally invested in Johnny. I want him to do well.

“But it’s not my field anyway, so there’s actually not much that crosses over. I don’t work for the competition team, so I have nothing to do with his matchups, any of that stuff. I think it’s actually pretty easy for me to keep my hands clean, we just maintain our personal relationship, and the professional side is handled by a department that I have no ties to.”

Tate and Nunez have a 16-month old daughter, Amaia, and when the topic of a possible comeback inevitably comes up, Tate was intrigued by the thought of Amaia getting to watch her fight, though she can’t see it being the main reason she would step back into the cage.

“I’ve never thought about it that way before, to get the opportunity to see mom in action,” Tate said. “She gets to see her daddy in action, which is very fulfilling for me, but I don’t think that would be the reason to dictate whether I would come back or not because she’ll see me training. She’ll see me in the gym and now we live in the day where everything’s recorded. So if she really wanted to see me at the highlight of my career, there’s YouTube, you know (laughs).

“So I don’t think that would be the motivating factor for me, but it’s certainly interesting to think about it that way.”