Miesha Tate was done.
In 2016, Tate experienced the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows after she finally captured UFC gold with a comeback victory against Holly Holm at the start of the year and then suffered back-to-back losses to Pennington and Amanda Nunes before calling it a career.
It’s hard to imagine a bigger swing of emotions over a 12-month period but looking back now, Tate wasn’t really thinking about her reign as champion; instead. she was haunted by the devastating feelings that overwhelmed her after that last loss.
“I was really burnt out,” Tate told MMA Fighting after recently announcing that she was returning to fight again in July. “I was kind of in a dark place to be honest the latter part of my career.
“A lot of the things in my personal life really caught up to me. There’s only so much somebody can take and so I just needed to step away so I could regroup.”
Throughout the majority of her career, Tate had been involved with ex-UFC bantamweight Bryan Caraway and the deterioration of their relationship hit her hard during those final fights prior to her retirement.
Add to that, Tate struggled to define her own identity when she wasn’t fighting because that’s all she had known for the past decade after she first started competing when she was barely 21 years old.
Following the loss to Pennington in 2016, the now 34-year-old mother of two was struggling to answer many of those questions she had about herself.
“I mean mental health is no joke,” Tate said. “To be in a place of depression — depression is something that can consume every piece of you and sometimes you feel like there’s no way out of it. I think it’s important, or at least it was for me, to be brutally honest with myself and really address and soul search. After that fight, I went on a road trip. I just took time for myself to answer questions. Why was I feeling this way? Where was my head? How could I make it better? That’s really what I needed time to do. I needed time to self-reflect. I needed time to regroup. I needed time to make myself whole again and happy in life.
“That was kind of a scary moment because I don’t know what else I was besides a fighter. That’s also scary. I feel like some people hold on too long to their careers because it’s all we know. That’s it.”
The time off allowed Tate to figure out what she would do next now that fighting was behind her.
Starting a family was a huge part of her years away from active competition as Tate welcomed both a daughter and a son into the world. She also branched out by becoming an executive with ONE Championship as the Singapore-based promotion invited her into the organization to use her brain more than her brawn.
“Sometimes you feel like there’s nothing else. Like who am I if I’m not Miesha Tate the fighter?” Tate said. “Well, I answered those questions. I’m Miesha Tate the mother. I’m Miesha Tate, vice president of ONE Championship. I’m Miesha Tate the commentator. I’m Miesha Tate interviewing people. I’m Miesha Tate creating content on YouTube. Whatever I put my mind to, and I think that helped me, too.”
As years passed, Tate started to feel that competitive itch inside again but she also realized that the window to return to fighting was only going to stay open for so long. She returned to the gym to start getting back into fight shape and that was the spark that eventually ignited a fire for her to declare retirement was over.
Miesha Tate was back.
“Don’t get me wrong, when I retired, I really meant that was it,” Tate explained. “But in hindsight now that I’m back where I want to be competitive again, I just see how important that was because I think I would have just continued to go on a losing streak had I pushed myself to come back. I would have just continued to not be there mentally, physically.
“Now I’m in a place where everything is right in my life. Probably for the first time in my life things are all put together well. I have a great support system. I feel like this is Miesha 2.0.”
Of course, Tate is well aware of the perception that retirement in mixed martial arts usually means a fighter stops fighting until the next best offer gets made to them. As she noted, many fighters retire and then realize that fighting is all they know — and when the bills start piling up, getting back into the cage is usually the easiest solution.
While that may be the driving factor behind many retirements coming to an end, Tate promises that’s not anywhere near the top of her list after deciding to compete again. In fact, Tate says she’s probably losing money up front by deciding to fight rather than stay in her previous role with ONE Championship.
“When I’m making this comeback, I’m not doing it because I have no other options,” Tate said. “I’m not doing it because I’m hurting for money. In fact, I’m walking away from a six-figure job to fight and probably going to have to win three fights to make more than I would with my job at ONE Championship. Win three fights.
“So it’s never been about that. It’s never been about money for me. That’s not the No. 1 motivating factor. Yeah, I’d be lying if I said money’s not great. Nobody doesn’t like money. That certainly sweetens the pot. I have a family now, too, so I want to provide for my family and do all the great things but those are not my driving factors.”
In the long run, Tate has already stated that she’s coming back with a goal of becoming UFC champion again but for now she’s just excited to get back to her roots.
“My driving factors are again boiling this down to basics,” Tate said. “When I first started doing this, this was not the cool thing to do. Women’s MMA was not cool. It was frowned upon. We made little to no money, pennies on the dollar, fighting for breadcrumbs but when you love something, you can’t put a price on that.
“That’s where I’m at. I feel time is of the essence and now is the time for me to come back and show what I’m really capable of. I feel like there was so much I left on the table when I walked away. So much I left on the table but I needed to do that. I needed to answer those questions. I needed to get out of that awful head space. I think I’ve done that and that’s why I’m here and I’m ready to make that comeback. I’m ready to make that second surge at my career.”