I never liked Miesha Tate much. When I first learned of her, I lumped her among the mass of mediocre MMA fighters who had achieved prominence only because they swam in a shallow talent pool. She was a subpar striker, and just above average grappler in a Womens' MMA world populated by weekend warriors and dabbling dilletantes. Then she was matched up against Ronda Rousey.
I had been following Ronda's career, and had researched her achievements in Judo. At a time when the majority view was that she was untested and inexperienced in MMA, I predicted that she would destroy Miesha Tate. It's hard to believe, now that Ronda is celebrated as invincible, but I was excoriated for talking nonsense. There was no way someone with only four professional fights lasting a few minutes each would defeat the Strikeforce Champion, they said. Hmm.
I eagerly followed the pre-fight hype as I awaited my sweet vindication. And while it did nothing to change my opinion that Miesha was a lamb being led to slaughter, I did begin to see elements of her personality that I found intriguing and even likable. At the pre-fight press conference, while Ronda prattled on in her slightly grating generation Y whiny voice, Miesha was articulate, poised and professional. She may be walking to her certain doom, I thought to myself, but this woman certainly carries herself well.
The fight results (to me anyway) were predictable. Ronda mangled Miesha's arm with clinical brutality. However, the climax of the fight revealed to me for the first time, the iron resolve that defines Miesha's character. Even as Ronda dislocated, twisted and wrecked her arm, Miesha refused to tap. Not until her limb was a broken, dangling mess did she finally give in.
As Ronda rose in victory, I watched Miesha. She lay on the ground with a stony look on her face, her steely self-control masking the pain in her body and humiliation in her heart. I'd never seen anyone look so resolute in defeat. Shrugging off the doctors, she stood next to the referee for the decision, impressing me with her composure.
She exhibited the poise of some noble barbarian queen just vanquished by the Roman war machine. She was WMMA's Boadicea. Regal and erect, she salvaged a haughty dignity from her moment of unimaginable shame. Her inscrutable visage showed none of the pain undoubtedly ravaging her damaged arm. I watched her with reluctant but growing admiration.
In August, Miesha returned to the Strikeforce cage in a blistering fight against Julie Kedzie. Once again, her technical prowess didn't particularly impress me. However, her mighty warrior's heart certainly did. She recovered from a mighty head kick and grinding onslaught from Kedzie, to wrest an improbable submission victory from the jaws of impending defeat.
So magnificent was the fortitude she displayed in not succumbing to Kedzie's domination, that Dana White, in his inimitable style, was forced to ejaculate: "HOLY SHIT Tate is tough as nails!!!!!" And so she was. On the first night that the UFC Grand Poobah watched a womens' MMA fight live, he was impressed into admitting that they could bring the pain and entertainment just as well as the men. And yet, Ronda gets sole credit for women being accepted into the UFC?
As impressive as Miesha's courage under fire was, it was her words after the Kedzie fight that cemented the growing feeling of admiration I had for her. Even as the plaudits rained down on her, she publicly criticized and expressed dissatisfaction at her own performance. In a sport rife with self-promotion and braggadocio, she was her own harshest critic.
This wasn't just a pose or an act of false humility. During the nomination window for the World MMA Awards, she urged her Twitter followers not to nominate her for Best Female Fighter, as she felt undeserving of the honor. I was impressed again. She was exhibiting one of the most admirable qualities of true leaders: the willingness to tell the truth as she saw it, even to her own detriment.
She showed the same qualities in October when Bellator womens' champion Zoila Gurgel was put on the undercard. Burning with righteous indignation, Miesha excoriated Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney for demoting a female champion to the undercard. The man was forced to publicly defend the decision, and whether or not you agree with his business rationale, the kerfuffle showed that Tate was willing to take up arms for the cause of womens' MMA, and fearlessly tell truth to power.
I was particularly impressed by this, as I have grown cynical at the routine cowardice of ordinary people. The office colleagues who don't criticize bad ideas so as to avoid career penalties; the bystanders who won't get involved while a victim is assaulted; the social conformists who suppress their dissenting views for fear of ostracism. The world is full of cowards keeping silent for their own safety. Miesha Tate is not one of them.
While other female MMA fighters kept silent at Gurgel's alleged mistreatment, Miesha spoke up. She had become the Nelson Mandela of WMMA: the fiery spokesperson seizing the pulpit by dint of her uncompromising dedication to the cause. And meanwhile where was Ronda, the supposed 'face of womens' MMA' and fellow Champion to Gurgel? Probably doing her nails somewhere in preparation for a glamorous photo shoot.
Most recently, Miesha took to her blog to excoriate UFC welterweight champ Georges St.Pierre for what she perceived were his disparaging comments about WMMA. Her article was as usual articulate but powerful, and ignited another firestorm within the MMA community. She had undoubtedly distorted GSP's innocuous words through the prism of her own fiery feminism. But the subsequent drama masked one important development: Ronda Rousey tweeted her agreement.
This is no small thing. It is significant because Miesha led and Ronda Rousey, WMMA's golden girl, followed. Whatever you think of Tate's overreaction, she had somehow got her mortal enemy and rival to fall in behind her while she led the charge. My journey to admiration was complete.
Miesha Tate is a natural leader. She is courageous and self-confident, articulate and passionate. She will take the first step, and others will follow. She will cause controversy and not care. She will make a difference. I may never become a fan of her technical proficiency, but I am already a fan of her lion heart. Keep it up, Cupcake.