Tate (18-5 MMA, 5-2 UFC), the reigning UFC women’s bantamweight titleholder, puts her belt on the line for the first time at the UFC 200 event on July 9th at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas (10 p.m. ET, pay-per-view). Her opponent isn’t Ronda Rousey, nor is it Holly Holm. Instead, it’s the lesser-known Amanda Nunes (12-4, 5-1).
Nunes has plenty of skill and is dangerous in her own right, but she doesn’t bring the notoriety of names such as Rousey and Holm. Those are the fights Tate ultimately wants because they bring more attention and bigger paydays, but in order to get there, she know she must handle her current business.
“This isn’t just one fight – this is part of my journey, this is part of my legacy and this is part of my destiny,” Tate tells Rolling Stone. “This is definitely my time. I’ve worked too hard for too long to have it go any other way and I just refuse to let that happen. I’ve seen a lot of titles changing hands recently and a lot of single-win, no-defense champions. I absolutely do not want to make that mistake.
Tate says she doesn’t want to underestimate Nunes in any way. “She’s kind of a dark horse to many people,” she explains. “They don’t understand how tough she is, but I’m tougher, and better and I will go out there and beat her, but not make the mistake of underestimating her. It’s my job to knock her back a few pegs.”
The pursuit of a UFC championship is almost unbearably difficult. Tate knows that as well as anyone. As recently as November, she was on the outside of the title picture looking in, told by UFC President Dana White that she wouldn’t fight for the belt after experiencing two career losses to then-champion Rousey.
That caused a “frustrated” Tate, who is one of the most success female fighters ever, to consider retirement from the sport. But when Holm knocked Rousey out cold to take the belt at UFC 193 in November, Tate’s career was given new life and she was awarded her long-desired crack at UFC gold against Holm at UFC 196 in March.
“It’s crazy how life can throw curveballs your way, and I think that’s also what’s very amazing about this sport is that as soon as you think you know what you’re in for, it can change at the drop of a hat,” she says. “There was a point where I was so frustrated with everything; I was contemplating retirement. Not because I didn’t feel physically like I had to or mentally or anything. I thought that I just wouldn’t be afforded the opportunity to fight for the title and that left me questioning: ‘What am I doing if I don’t have the opportunity to prove I’m the best in the world?’
“I’m goal-driven and I’m a goal-digger,” she continues. “I want to be the best in the world and I thought I wouldn’t be given that opportunity no matter how much work I did, no mater how many Number One contenders I beat, I felt like the carpet was being pulled out from under my feet.”
Tate took full advantage of her title opportunity against Holm. After falling behind on the scorecards over four rounds, Tate came out determined in the fifth and final frame. She took Holm to the ground, gained back control and choked “The Preacher’s Daughter” out cold in a captivating comeback.
The fight was the perfect summation of Tate’s career. Just when she’s seemingly down and out, she found a way to flourish.
“That was a lot of pressure on my shoulders because I knew if I didn’t win that fight I didn’t know if I would ever get a title shot again,” she says. “It was the most pressure I’ve ever had on me. I have a lot of faith in myself that no matter how big the stakes are, I can rise to the occasion and get the job done. This is what I was put out to do and all the bumps in the road have just strengthened me.”
Now that Tate is champion, the real work begins. Holding on to a UFC belt is arguably even more difficult than the pursuit of winning one, and with that comes immense pressure not to falter when the spotlight shines brightest.
UFC 200 is a grandiose stage. It’s the biggest event in UFC history and Tate’s showdown with Nunes is in the thick of the fold. She embraces that position, though, and is ready to prove she has what it takes to be a long-reigning and dominant titleholder.
Tate has entered both her previous UFC title fights as the betting underdog. She went 1-1 in those contests, but at UFC 200 “Cupcake” will walk to the Octagon as the favorite. Whether she can live up to that standard remains to be seen, but Tate says she understands what it takes to best Nunes then move on to the massive “money” fights that rest in the future.
“She mentally breaks in fights,” she says. “That’s something I don’t feel like can be said about myself, so I know there will come a point when I break her in this fight. I’ve seen her break in the fights she’s won as well as fights she’s lost. I think she has a big hole in her game as far as mental weakness goes. I don’t think she wants it as bad as I do. I don’t think she wants it enough to be a world champion.
“There’s more pressure considering this is my first title defense and there’s history to be made: I’ll be only the second female champion to ever successfully defend the belt,” she says in closing. “I know logically if I don’t win this fight all the talk of those next potential fights really goes out the window. I don’t want to make that mistake.”