Miesha Tate's toughest opponent may not be Ronda Rousey, but her own emotions

Yahoo Sports

LAS VEGAS – The last time Miesha Tate met Ronda Rousey, Tate was the champion, and a very disdainful one at that.

Rousey, Tate insisted before that 2012 Strikeforce title fight in Columbus, Ohio, didn't even deserve the opportunity. She said it should have gone to Sarah Kaufman.

Tate pointed out that Rousey was inexperienced, hadn't beaten anyone of note and was more hype than legitimate contender.

Her words quickly came back to haunt her once the bell rang.

It was Tate, the veteran fighter, who made the rookie mistakes. Tate was the one who made it personal and wasn't on her game mentally. Tate is the one who made a technical mistake and wound up submitting to a first-round arm bar. And given that Rousey went on to defeat Kaufman in just 54 seconds in her next match, Tate was wrong on which of them deserved the title opportunity, as well.

Now, Tate finally has another opportunity at her rival. She'll challenge Rousey for the women's bantamweight title in the co-main event of UFC 168 on Dec. 28 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

No one will have more to lose than Tate, who enters the bout having lost two of her last three. Another loss to Rousey would relegate her to also-ran status in the crowded bantamweight division.

After a season coaching opposite Rousey on Season 18 of "The Ultimate Fighter," Tate has a much better idea now of what Rousey is all about. She has to be able to let go of the hatred and bitterness she feels toward Rousey.

She badly wants to win, but instead of letting her anger and hatred drive her, she's trying to take it as just another fight. Whether she can likely will depend on her ability to control her emotions.

That was something she didn't do well the last time.

"Well, the mistake in itself in the fight was technical," Tate said. "But it happened because of the emotion. So I think that I was over emotional in the fight. And, I went out there, I kind of abandoned the game plan a little bit and I allowed her to play into her game plan.

"I just got sucked in to all of it. I'm more mature now. I've grown a lot as a person. When you lose, when you make a mistake, that's why you make mistakes in life, so that you can learn from it and become better and bigger and stronger. And that’s what I feel like I've done. I don't necessarily look at it like a mistake anymore. I look at it as a learning experience."

Rare is the fighter with a bout looming who claims not to have had anything but the greatest camp they've ever had, and Tate insists that, yes, her camp for Rousey was, in fact, her best ever.

Give Tate credit, though, for understanding the significance of the challenge she's about to face.

Fighters who lose back-to-back bouts and three out of four in the UFC don't tend to have a promising career outlook. She needs to beat Rousey not only to exorcise the demons from that 2012 match, but also to put her career back on the right track.

"This fight is as big as it gets for me," Tate said. "It doesn't get any bigger. It doesn't get any better."

Tate's challenge is to find a way to beat a woman who has, thus far, proven unbeatable. Rousey is 7-0 and has finished all seven of her fights with arm bars in the first round. Five of those bouts have ended in less than a minute.

Like any fighter, Rousey has holes in her game, but no one so far has been able to exploit them, whatever they might be. Tate, though, believes she can become the first.

"A lot of people build Ronda up to be this invincible person, and that there's no way that she can be beaten," Tate said. "But I don't see it that way at all. I see a lot of holes in her game, and I see a lot of ways that she can be exploited. Just because it hasn't happened yet doesn't mean it won't ever happen, you know what I mean?

"And I'm going to do something different on the 28th than anybody else has done. But yes, those holes are there. You guys saw it. I saw it. I don't think it needs really any explanation. They're there and they're there waiting to be taken advantage of."

For Tate to be the one who exploits Rousey's weaknesses, she'll not only have to have fixed her own flaws, but she'll have to keep her emotions in check.

And that's very difficult to do when one has the kind of animus Tate has for Rousey. The UFC encourages its fighters not to fight safe, and go for the finish, and Tate says that is what she plans to do.

"I don't want to just win this fight, I want to win this fight," she said. "I want to finish this fight. And I think that's one thing we could probably agree on. I'm sure she feels the same way. So that's how I know it's going to be an amazing fight, and every day that I go into my training, I know that. I know that we're both fighting for that same common interest. We want to beat the hell out of each other. We want to finish the fight. We don't want a decision. I don't want a decision.

"So, you know, I'm motivated and I'm ready for that and I'm counting on it. I'm waiting for that. I'm anticipating it. I know exactly what I'm getting myself into. You know, I've been in there with her before and, you know, for me, this is just a chance to show that I've grown."

It's fight talk, and it's impossible to know how much of Tate's words are designed to sell the match and how much those words represent her true feelings.

If she's going to defeat Rousey and claim the UFC women's bantamweight title, she's going to need to be able to control her emotions and not allow her disdain for Rousey to overwhelm her.

If she can't, her words will come back to haunt her once again, and she'll have the difficult task of piecing her career back together.

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