LAS VEGAS -- Miesha Tate took a little victory lap when she entered the Octagon at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Saturday night.
Sure, Tate still had her UFC 168 title fight with women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey ahead of her. But the fighter known as "Cupcake" took a moment to bask in the adulation of the sellout crowd, waving and blowing kisses toward the upper deck before getting down to business.
And who could blame her? For months, the stars seemed to align in her favor. If ever Tate was going to get the best of her nemesis, it was going to be Saturday night.
But it wasn’t meant to be. Tate put in a spirited battle against Rousey, but ultimately succumbed in the third round, submitting to an arm bar.
“I think that every day people take victories and climb small hills,” Tate sighed at the post-fight news conference. “And I picked Mt. Everest. You know, I didn’t quite make it to the top.”
It took a remarkable series of events to put Tate at the brink of the championship in the first place. Tate lost to Cat Zingano in June, which was supposed to give Zingano the opportunity to coach against Rousey on The Ultimate Fighter and a title shot. But an injury to Zingano opened the door for Tate. Then, after taking a backseat to the woman who beat her in 2012 for the Strikeforce title, Tate broke through on TUF, winning over fans who had previously sided with Rousey.
Tate then capped off the experience by having both of her fighters in championship fights – Julianna Pena and Chris Holdsworth – defeat Rousey-coached fighters in the recent Ultimate Fighter finale.
While Rousey may have gotten revenge in defeating Tate a second time Saturday night, she wasn’t about to drop the pent-up grudge. The champion refused Tate’s offer of a handshake after the fight, causing Rousey’s post-fight interview to be drowned out in jeers.
The champion cited what she felt was disrespect to her coaching staff as her reason for the snub.
"I feel that the day she formally apologizes to my coach Edmond [Tarverdyan] and Chris Beal and they accept that apology, then I will consider shaking your hand again,” Rousey said. “I said up there boos are not more important to me than my family. If I feel like you've done wrong against my family, you need to make that right before I can shake your hand. It means something to me, it's not something I just throw out there."
Rousey, however was willing to differentiate between Tate the fighter and Tate the enemy.
“I need to commend and congratulate Miesha, she’s an amazing fighter, she really is,” Rousey said. “It's just once you insult my family, I can’t shake your hand, but I really respect her and she did an amazing job tonight.”
One look at the fight – which earned both competitors a $75,000 Fight of the Night bonus – would explain why Rousey felt that way. The champion had finished all 10 of her previous pro and amateur bouts via first-round arm bar.
But Tate kept Rousey honest. She scored in the standup in the first round and connected on upkicks in the second.
Tate, however, simply had no match for Rousey’s world-class judo, which is simply on another level. Every time Rousey find herself getting into trouble, she was able to maneuver her way into a nasty judo throw.
While Tate’s submission defense was much improved over their 2012 fight, by the time Rousey got an armbar in the third, she had reached the end.
“After that first round ended, I was still comfortable, but I was feeling a little antsy because I was in the second round for the first time,” Rousey said. “But when I came out for the third round, I really felt comfortable. I wasn’t tired, and I knew to stay patient. It helped me focus a lot more, and that’s why I was able to cash in in the third round. ... Hat’s off to Miesha as a competitor, she really pushed me and showed me what I’m capable of achieving.”
Tate, on the opposite end of the MGM podium at the news conference, never registered a response to Rousey’s words, either the praise or the criticism.
She’s in a paradoxical career spot. Tate has never been a bigger star. She just pushed Rousey to the toughest fight of her career. And yet, she’s lost twice to Rousey and won’t get another title shot in the foreseeable future. She’s lost three of her past four fights. Moving up or down a weight class isn’t an option, as the UFC has neither a 145- or 125-pound women’s division.
The fighter known as “Cupcake” didn’t seem quite ready to comprehend all this when she was asked about her future.
“I apologize for not being in a very talkative mood,” Tate said. “I don’t really know, honestly, you know? I’m going to walk away with my head held high, and I just need some time to not make any rash decisions. I don’t know what the future holds.”
Follow Dave Doyle on Twitter: @DaveDoyleMMA.