The UFC introduced its Women's Bantamweight division just over three years ago. Ever since, every championship fight has been a thriller.
Ronda Rousey set the benchmark as the original ruler of the weight class, winning six consecutive title fights, all by stoppage, with three victories coming in less than a minute. Holly Holm took the title from Rousey in emphatic fashion with a knockout that will have a permanent home on UFC highlight reels. And on Saturday night, Miesha Tate added to that legacy when she beat Holm at UFC 196.
With Tate facing an uphill battle on the judges' scorecards, she pulled off a come-from-behind victory for the ages, locking in a rear-naked choke on Holm in the fifth round. The champ didn't tap – instead, she lost consciousness with 90 seconds remaining in the fight, giving Tate a UFC title at long last. It was a win that shook up the MMA world, but for anyone who's followed Tate's career, it probably wasn't a surprise; time and time again, she's proven that she'll fight to the very end.
"Until that bell goes there's still fight in me no matter what," Tate said on FS1's UFC 196 post-show. "That's exactly what I've learned in life and through this sport; it's forced me to be an incredibly strong woman. I know that if I'm not down and out, I'm still in it to win it. I'm still coming for it, it doesn't matter if there's one second left – I'm going to try to finish the fight."
Tate was overcome with emotion following her triumph because it completed a long and tumultuous climb to the top of what had seemed like an insurmountable mountain. "Cupcake" was promised an opportunity to fight Rousey for the UFC belt last year, but that offer was later rescinded, and the bout was given to Holm instead. The logic behind that decision was sound – Tate had suffered losses to Rousey in March 2012 and December 2013 – and though she considered retirement, Tate remained resolute. Then fate intervened, in the form of a kick to the head from Holm, which knocked out Rousey and gave "The Preacher's Daughter" the belt, the first time the title had changed hands in Bantamweight division history.
UFC wanted an immediate rematch, but Holm insisted on fighting before Rousey was ready. That provided Tate with the opportunity she'd longed for. And she made the most of it.
"It's just an unbelievable feeling, because I've imagined it so vividly so many times that it was hard to realize that this was the real title," Tate said after her win. "I've seen it and felt it and just been in that moment so many times in my mind [and] I can actually feel the belt now, it's just crazy."
The drama that led to Tate's epic win will only swell going forward. A third fight with her rival Rousey will likely serve as her first defense, but this time everything is different. Rousey no longer possesses her aura of invincibility and there are legitimate questions about her mental state coming off the gruesome loss to Holm. On Saturday night, she wasn't even watching UFC 196, something president Dana White only revealed after Tate had taken the title.
"I texted Ronda...[she] wasn't even watching the fight," he told ESPN. "I texted Ronda and she said, 'What happened?' I said, 'Miesha just choked her unconscious.' And she said, 'Well, it looks like I got to get back to work.' I don't know what that means, if that means acting or fighting."
Tate, on the other hand, is riding the momentum of a five-fight winning streak, and is definitely determined to prove that her two previous losses to Rousey – for the Strikeforce championship in 2012 and the UFC belt the following year – are ancient history. Of course, there's also the possibility of a rematch with Holm; UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta said she remains a contender, and Holm is ready and willing to make the fight happen. Imbued with the confidence of a champion, Tate won't reveal who she prefers to fight. If anything, she's determined to enjoy her victory first. After all, it's been a long time coming.
"I haven't even got that far yet – I'm still trying to soak this in," she said. "I still need to eat a few cupcakes before I think about my next fight."