One of the hardest things for combat sports fighters is knowing when to say goodbye. Gone is the roar of the crowd, the thrill of walking down to the ring or cage to your favorite music, getting your name introduced by the ring announcer, and then hearing your name called out in victory.
UFC 196 was supposed to be one of the career highlights of Miesha Tate when she made a valiant comeback for the ages to submit Holly Holm in the fifth round to capture the women's bantamweight title. Then, in her first title defense against Amanda Nunes at UFC 200, she got battered and bloodied in a losing effort to the reigning two-division titlist. To cap off a roller coaster, Tate looked nothing like the fighter who reached the top of the mountain in losing a lopsided decision to Raquel Pennington at UFC 205. It didn't take long for Tate to decide her next move as she told Joe Rogan during her post-fight interview that she was hanging up the gloves.
"I tried to avoid going to my medicals because I was like 'I quit,'" Tate admitted to DAZN News in what she tried to do right after the Pennington fight. "I don't need to go to medicals. I fought with Dana (White). That's what I did. I had a fight after the fight. He was like, ‘Don't make me leave this arena and come and find you’.
"I literally ran. I didn't want to go. They were like, ‘You have to go to the hospital. I’m like, 'Bulls—t. I don't have to go to the hospital. I'm fine. I'm checked out. I'm not part of this company anymore.' I was just done. I ended up going to the hospital. I was just so checked out. I didn't want to do any of it. I was just done."
Tate's life was crumbling right in front of her eyes. She says her relationship with ex-UFC fighter Bryan Caraway had gotten toxic to the point where she had shut off communication with her parents and friends. Tate broke up with Caraway and proceeded to go on a two-week vacation with her dog to get away from everything and try to mend the relationships she once had.
"I felt very alone," Tate said. "I felt very isolated. I felt I didn't see a way out. I just had to make a big change in my life. I had to get away from and cut ties with all the things that were kind of keeping me in that same place even though the right familiarity is comfortable. So sometimes, we hold onto the things that aren't good for us. We stay in relationships too long, or maybe we stay in that job too long. It's sometimes human tendency to be like, ‘But I'm scared of what I don't know.’ And that's where I had to make that bold decision, and I did. So, I retired. I had already cut ties with a lot of my personal life things that were not going well with that.
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"I went on a road trip. I took two weeks, and I took my dog, and I just went wherever I wanted. I soul searched basically, in a nutshell is what I did. Then over the past four and a half years, I've continued to answer a lot of the questions that I had. I've healed. I've healed from that because I asked myself the really difficult questions (of) why I was feeling the way that I was, why I was at where I was, who did I need to better myself with, and who do I need to distance myself with."
Tate fixed those relationships with her parents and friends and proceeded to meet MMA fighter, Johnny Nuñez. Her and Nunez are engaged and are the proud parents of daughter Amaia and son Daxton. Having the calm she wanted led to her first 'l' before becoming a mother and a soon-to-be wife, fighting. Tate returns to the Octagon after a four-and-a-half-year layoff on Saturday in the co-main event at UFC Fight Night against Marion Reneau.
"I rekindled relationships that were important to me that had deteriorated, and I let go of ones that were not conducive to where I wanted to go," Tate said. "So I just followed my heart, and lo and behold, where did I end up again? Truly, I believe my problem was never with the sport. It never was. It was my tie-ins to the sport, and I didn't know how to break free from that. My personal life was all intertwined.
"I had to just step away from it all and really find myself, and I did," she continued. "I have a fiance now who is just the most amazing man in the world, and I have two beautiful children, and my parents are more involved in my life than ever. It's incredible. It's very fulfilling.”
What are the goals for Tate going forward in her return? It's one thing and one thing only: A chance to reclaim the 135-pound title. When Tate looks back on it, she doesn't even know how the Holm win even happened because of all the drama happening around her. Now the 34-year-old has her ducks all aligned and ready to reach the pinnacle once again.
"To be a champion again," Tate said of what her goal is. "I will be the first woman to be a mother of two to be a world champion. Again, it's certainly a large feat, and it probably sounds unrealistic and out of this world. But you know, when I look back at my 19-year-old self, my 20-year-old self, my 21-year- old self, and I had time and had these crazy dreams that nobody thought was possible or could ever happen in their wildest dreams. To be a part of the UFC when that was unheard of. Women were not allowed. And then you get in the UFC, and all you're told is that you’ll never be a champion. I did these things.
"So I'm not going to allow anybody else to put limitations on what I can do because I know what I'm capable of, and now more than ever, I have the confidence. I've let go of the things that were bringing me down. I don't have the same insecurities that I had before. I'm a much more complete person. I know who I am. I know my worth. I know what I bring. I'm no longer the woman who has to fight it. That's the difference. This time, it's not in spite of no one. I’m going to bring my best version of myself. I don't need all that extra baggage and turmoil. I'm just going to bring the best, and that's it."
Nunes is the current women's bantamweight and featherweight champion. "The Lioness" returns at UFC 265 to defend her 135-pound title against Tate's friend Julianna Pena. Tate is rooting for Pena to win at UFC 265. But the competitor in Tate wants Nunes to win because she feels if everything had been right in her life, things could have been different. To get there, though, Nunes needs to keep winning, and Tate thinks winning these next three fights starting with Reneau will get her the rematch she desires.
"Amanda is the one who I envision right now," Tate said. "But I'm sure a lot could change. I'm not going to lie. When I sit back, and I envision my future. It's envisioning myself beating Amanda because she's the one that took the title from me. I don't want to take anything away from her because there's nothing to take away from the woman. She’s the best. She's the greatest of all time. I want to be an open book. She really beat me at one of the times when I was at my worst. I was emotionally and mentally drained. My camp was fine. I didn’t necessarily have injuries, but I was just in such a terrible place. I was in a bad place.
"When I fought Holly, I don't know how I did that. To be honest, I really don't. I was in a bad place for a lot of my camps. But the downward trajectory was Amanda. Then obviously, the fight after that, because you said nine months after winning the title. I mean, that doesn't just happen that fast. This is something that had been prolonged for a long period of time. I think the last time I was able to muster up enough was against Holly.”