UFC champion Holly Holm has a big fight coming up – and it's not against Ronda Rousey.
Holm (10-0 MMA, 3-0 UFC), the UFC women's Bantamweight titleholder, puts her belt on the line against Miesha Tate (17-5, 4-2) on Saturday at UFC 196. But with the questions she's getting ahead of the fight, you'd hardly know it. At every press junket and promotional stop, the queries come about Rousey – her claims that she contemplated suicide following her loss to Holm last year, her upcoming movie roles, her potential rematch for the Bantamweight crown. What Holm wants to be asked about, however, is Tate, who may prove to be her toughest opponent yet.
"How much time are we going to spend on that?" Holm sighs after yet another Rousey question. "I have Miesha in front of me."
If history is any indicator, Tate isn't going to get out of the way, either. Don't let her nickname ("Cupcake") fool you; she's one of the toughest athletes in the sport. Tate is the only fighter in the history of a major MMA organization to come back from being knocked down three times in a fight to stop their opponent inside the distance. Two fights ago, her orbital bone was cracked by a punch early in the first round, but she gutted out a decision over Olympic silver medalist Sara McMann.
She is as gritty as they come, but what makes her even more dangerous is the sizeable chip she's carrying on her shoulder. Tate was supposed to be Rousey's opponent at UFC 193, but even after being publicly announced as No. 1 contender, the promise was reneged and Holm took her spot. The rest is history.
"I was considering retiring out of frustration, not out of feeling like I didn't have what it takes anymore," Tate says. "They said, 'Oh you're going to fight for the title.' Then, 'Oh, wait – you're not.' My fate was in someone else's hands and I was frustrated for a moment because I'm not in this for a participation ribbon, I'm in it to be a UFC champion.
"It felt like they were telling me it was never going to be an option," she continues. "But fate has a way of working itself out and opportunity can present itself so destiny can fulfill itself. That's where I think I'm at with this."
Holm's vicious head-kick to Rousey not only changed her career, but Tate's as well. Tate's four-fight UFC winning streak is the longest in her division, but the fact her record shows two career losses to Rousey put her in title purgatory as long as the belt stayed put. When Holm forced the title to change hands, though, it immediately opened the door for Tate. UFC originally planned to give Rousey an immediate rematch, but when her return to fighting was postponed to November, Holm insisted on taking another bout.
Tate was the obviously choice, and the champion says she's in for a stern test.
"I expect a really tough fight," Holm says. "I'm going to get the best Miesha Tate there is. Having that chance at the title taken away from her, I think this is really a motivation for her. She could change everything for her career and her life by taking this belt away. I'm really aware of that. Just because Ronda beat her doesn't mean that I can beat her. I have to expect her hardest game."
To date, Tate's career has been a series of highs and lows. She was the champion of the now-defunct Strikeforce organization, but has also suffered some humiliating defeats. Tate says none of that ever deterred her from her chosen path, and because of that she believes the timing is finally right for her to hold UFC gold.
"I want to prove to the world that I'm the best," she says. "In my mind, I already am, but I have a little bit of proving to do on Saturday, obviously. There's some people who doubt and I want to shut out all cases of doubt. I want to go out and win this fight in emphatic fashion and be the champion. That belt symbolizes the 10-plus years that I've put into this sport busting my ass."
Tate may believe it's her destiny to beat Holm, but "The Preacher's Daughter" would beg to differ. Holm has also worked for a lifetime to reach her current position. From a storied career as a pro boxer to her current venture as an MMA fighter, she has experienced trying ups and downs of her own.
The highlight of Holm's career to this point is, of course, the crushing title-winning knockout of Rousey. In her mind, though, that's just the start of what she hopes to accomplish during a long and prestigious reign as champion. She says she doesn't want to be remembered for just one shocking upset.
"I never want to be a one-hit wonder," Holm says. "When I look at myself I don't even see myself with the belt. When I think of my fight, I feel like I'm fighting for the belt, not that I have it already. I'm still driving forward, so I don't even consider myself the champ right now. I consider myself the person who needs to go in and fight for it."
Tate's style will offer a different challenge to Holm that what she faced in her previous fight. Rousey was an Olympic-level judo competitor with developing striking skills and the ability to end a fight on a dime. Tate, on the other hand, is a hard-nosed wrestler who has put years into stand-up training and has a will and resolve that's difficult to account for.
If Tate can put together her best elements when she steps in the Octagon at UFC 196, another new champion could be crowned. Most who win a UFC belt believe their place on top isn't truly solidified until the title is successfully defended. Tate has no intention of being Holm's stepping-stone.
"She said, 'I don't want to be a one-hit wonder,'" she says. "That's great, but we'll see."