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Miesha Tate on Valentina Shevchenko callout: ‘I’m the uncrowned queen’

Taila Santos’ near-upset of Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 275 thrilled Miesha Tate. It was also a little bittersweet for the former bantamweight champ.

Two weeks away from her octagon debut at 125 pounds, Tate realized she had arrived a little too late to show the world how to defeat the long-reigning flyweight champ.

“The worst part is I already knew this,” Tate said Monday on The MMA Hour. “Now, the rest of the world knows it. I already believe this. I didn’t want Valentina to look any less indestructible. I wanted her to stay where everybody thought she was so unbeatable, because I already knew I could do that.”

This past Saturday in Singapore, Shevchenko took home a split decision win after the toughest title defense of her career. Santos repeatedly won grappling exchanges in the early part of the fight and survived a tough stretch in the championship rounds when she suffered a broken orbital due to an accidental headbutt. One judge gave Santos the first three rounds, but the others scored it for Shevchenko, with one inexplicably awarding the champ four rounds.

“I honestly, in my first impression, thought that Taila won the first three rounds,” Tate said. “Going back and watching it, I could see an argument where Valentina, depending on what you favor, could have won the fight. But in my mind, I still feel like Taila Santos won it, especially because I think that the visual of the eye, which I believe primarily came from the headbutt, was calculated in the judges’ minds, however, it really shouldn’t have been, because it was a foul, essentially.”

Eight years ago, “Cupcake” Tate shocked the world by out-grappling Holly Holm to capture the UFC bantamweight title nine years into her MMA career. She wanted to shock it again versus Shevchenko, and had seen hints of a weakness in the champ’s previous title defense against Jennifer Maia. Now, it was plain.

“So for me, it’s kind of like, ah, it’s been shown,” Tate said. “Now, people are going to believe in me more to be able to do it. I didn’t want that. I wanted to be the massive underdog. I wanted everybody to count me out. I wanted nobody to think Miesha Tate, five years retired, two kids, coming back 2-1 in the UFC, would be able to take out Valentina Shevchenko. But now, I think people can see a little bit of what I’ve been saying holds some water. I don’t know if that benefits me, but either way, the game plan hasn’t changed.”

If anything, it’s gotten even clearer. If Tate is able to defeat one-time title challenger Lauren Murphy, currently the No. 2 ranked flyweight in the UFC’s rankings (and No. 5 in the MMA Fighting Global Rankings) on July 2 at UFC 276, she’ll catapult into title contention. She’ll be one step closer to realizing that underdog story and cashing those underdog checks.

The odds may not be as attractive next time out.

Tate has been around long enough not to let these thoughts intrude on her next task. Like her, Murphy is a strong grappler and is quite capable of grinding her out. There’s one last hurdle before she even has an argument to challenge for the belt. She doesn’t expect Santos will get another one via immediate rematch.

“I don’t think so, because sadly enough, I think it’s just that Taila is not a big enough name,” Tate said. “And that’s unfortunate to say. I do not mean that disrespectfully whatsoever. I’m a huge fan of hers, especially after that performance. I thought she was fantastic. However, I just don’t think the UFC is going to do an immediate - how often do they do immediate rematches for contenders? Almost never. Now, if Taila had won, I absolutely think a rematch would be happening. But I think it’s largely going to be up to Valentina, and she’s already mentioned my name.”

Indeed, Shevchenko dropped Tate’s name at the post-fight press conference, indicating a second go-around with the Brazilian challenger wasn’t her preference. For Tate, that’s the benefit of being a former champion and a proven draw.

“I know that she wants to fight me – it’s no secret,” she said. “I feel like everybody wants to fight me. I’m the uncrowned queen. I’ve got the target on my back almost as big as any champion. Everybody wants to take out the ‘Cupcake.’ But we’re going to get it done on July 2, and I think Valentina and I will lock horns. That’s the plan.”

Adding another UFC belt to her collection would be an incredible accomplishment for Tate, who walked away from the sport in 2016 to start a new chapter in her life. What would make it more gratifying this time round, she said, is taking it from Shevchenko.

“Valentina Shevchenko is such a dominant champion,” Tate said. “It is so difficult to do. I didn’t have a successful defense. I just have so much respect for all these women and athletes who are able to successfully defend again and again, because going in there with the imagery that she had, this happens in fights, and you’re always fighting the next best person, the next hungriest person who’s been taking out all the competition. So it’s no easy task. So I have a tremendous amount of respect for her. But legacy wise, that’s going to take the cake for me.”

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