Despite being absent from the division for nearly five years, Miesha Tate will make her return from retirement looking at many of the same faces atop the rankings as the day she left the sport.
The former UFC women’s bantamweight champion suffered back-to-back losses to Amanda Nunes and Raquel Pennington in 2016 that precipitated her decision to call it a career. Now as she prepares to fight again at UFC Vegas 31, Tate knows Nunes is still ruling over the division with an iron fist and several of her past opponents are still vying for title contention at 135 pounds.
While she wasn’t laser focused on what was happening in the UFC while she was starting a family and taking on a new role as an executive at ONE Championship, Tate has now started to examine her old stomping grounds again as she looks to make an immediate impact with her first fight back this Saturday night.
“What I’ve noticed has changed in the last four years, there’s a bit of a lull in the division just because Amanda has been such a dominant champion,” Tate explained when speaking to MMA Fighting. “All the women have been putting in a lot of work and they’ve been doing their part and they’ve been doing great but this is not women’s MMA problem.
“This is any time there’s been a really dominant champion who’s cleared out most of the contenders, people start to question what can we do? Who’s next? Julianna Pena is next and I think she has a great stylistic challenge for Amanda. But the division has continued to evolve and I’m excited to get back in there and mix it up with these ladies.”
Because Nunes has been such a force of nature since defeating Tate to become champion at UFC 200, the rest of the division has been made to look somewhat pedestrian by comparison.
Of course in an ideal world, Tate would love to win her upcoming fight against Marion Reneau and then start building towards an eventual rematch against Nunes where she could potentially reclaim the UFC title and avenge an ugly loss on her record.
That said, Tate is absolutely rooting for Pena to get the job done against Nunes in August because she would never wish any ill will towards a friend achieving the exact same goals she has for herself.
“That’s what I want for myself [with a rematch against Amanda Nunes] but I think it’s cross that bridge when we get there,” Tate said. “I genuinely want Julianna to get this fight and I want her to win. I will be nothing but happy for her if she’s able to do that. There’s no part of me that wishes for her not to do this so I can have this fairytale storybook ending.
“What will be, will be. It doesn’t matter. I will get there eventually to the championship. I think if Julianna wins they’re going to do an immediate rematch, which is great. She has a great style, I can’t say that enough. Those cornfed folk up in Washington, we’ve just got some kind of tough about us. I’m excited for her and I want her to do it. But if she doesn’t do it, I believe I will.”
Considering the way her first fight against Nunes ended, Tate understands there are going to be plenty of people scoffing at her declaration that a rematch would go differently but that’s just the belief she has in herself.
A huge part of her decision to return to fighting was with the mindset of becoming a champion again and not just treading water as some run-of-the-mill, middle of the road competitor.
Tate is resolved in her mission to wear UFC gold around her waist again and no one is going to tell her she can’t do it.
“It’s a tall order. I know,” Tate said. “A lot of people think I’m delusional, I know. I know I’m crazy but everyone thought I was crazy before. I was the underdog going in against Holly [Holm] and look you’ve got to dream big. If you’re not dreaming big then you’re cheating yourself. People thought Francis [Ngannou] was crazy, too, the first time he got defeated by Stipe. He figured it out and he’s a better version of himself.
“If there’s anybody I’d like to model myself after, it’s that man. That storyline of evolution and figuring it out. I can’t get ahead of myself but I do have long term goals. My long term goal is to be a world champion again. Short term goal, don’t underestimate Marion Reneau. She’s tough as sh*t and I know she’s going to bring it on July 17.”