This was supposed to be part II. Part II of Miesha Tate vs. Holly Holm, that is. After Tate's stunning, come-from-behind submission win, the general consensus (with former Women's Bantamweight Champion Ronda Rousey not yet ready to return to the cage) was that 'The Preacher's Daughter' would get the chance to avenge the first loss of her career to 'Cupcake'. But it wasn't to be.
Brazilian Amanda Nunes was announced as Tate's first defence to collective gasps and sighs amongst a large portion of the MMA community. Me? I would have been happy with Tate Holm II, but was equally happy with Tate Nunes. The way I saw it, Nunes was on a very nice 3-fight winning streak (her only blemish in her UFC career was a defeat to Cat Zingano after almost finishing the fight herself in the first round) which included a very impressive destruction of Sara McMann.
This fight was mooted during the last quarter of 2015 when Tate was in limbo after being denied a title shot she thought she had secured with her win over Jessica Eye in July. It's a fight I've always been interested in.
As a huge fan of the women's divisions, it was disappointing to see many questioning Nunes' title challenger status. And just as disappointing, even as a huge Tate fan, so see people claiming this is an 'easy fight'. It isn't. Nunes is a deserving and dangerous challenger, and with this her first-ever world title shot, you should be in no doubt that she'll have done everything she can to prepare and will give it everything she has once that Octagon door is locked.
I've read a lot of takes on this fight over the last three months or so, and among the many who, quite frankly, know very little about these two fighters despite watching them fight for at least the last couple of years, a couple of things have stood out.
One, that Nunes tends to fade as a fight goes on, the opposite of Tate. (Which is true, based on their careers thus far). And two, that Nunes is a better striker. I can totally understand these two views, but I feel that by looking deeper, it's apparent that they are quite simplistic and there's far more to this fight and its combatants than meets the eye. I'm going to try and break it all down in the various areas for you below from my perspective. I hope you enjoy, and all comments are welcome!
Striking: Nunes Possesses More Power and Diversity, But...
Head-kicks, leg-kicks, hooks and overhand rights. Amanda Nunes throws all of the above with bad intentions. And if one of them lands, it spells trouble for the recipient. Surely this department goes to her by a wide margin? Actually, no. There's little doubt that she boasts some serious power, and she throws a wide array of strikes, but I think some of Tate's fundamentals are better. Namely, I think she has learned to put punches together better since she's been under the tutelage of Jimmy Gifford at Xtreme Couture.
We first saw the potential in her striking in her second loss to Ronda Rousey back at UFC 168. While that fight was on the feet, she landed some really nice left hooks and jabs, and some nice right crosses. To land 24 significant strikes in a fight that lasted 11 minutes where she was tossed to the ground with regularity isn't terribly bad by any means. She's further polished this side of things in the two-and-a-half years since, developing more power, and to my surprise, showed some outstanding footwork and head movement during her title triumph over Holly Holm.
I believe that if Tate continues with that footwork and head movement in this fight (I feel she needs to against such a vicious striker), she can actually get the better of the striking exchanges. However, if she decides to stand and bang, there's a definite chance of one of Nunes' powerful shots finding a home. And then we're in that familiar Tatetory (yes, I made that up) of 'Cupcake' needing to come back from behind to get the win like she's done so many times during her decade-long career.
I feel that Tate holds the key to the striking exchanges. The same Tate that was able to mute Holly Holm's offensive output for long stretches of their fight can frustrate 'The Lioness' and begin to pick her apart as she tires. The Tate that fought Sara McMann and Jessica Eye could be in big trouble early, and Nunes is super-dangerous when she smells blood.
Grappling: A Black Belt Should Beat a Purple Belt, Right?
Grappling is Miesha Tate's bread and butter. But, according to her Wikipedia page, she's a purple belt. In contrast, Amanda Nunes is a black belt. So Nunes is the better grappler? Nope. Today, I read someone say in their breakdown for this fight that Nunes would beat Tate in a BJJ match. And on the surface, they would appear to be right....that is if you hadn't watched both of them at work in MMA and grappling countless times. I have.
I tell a lie....I haven't seen Nunes in a pure grappling tournament or anything of that nature, but I have seen Tate. Pure grappling and MMA grappling are different, but I feel very confident in picking Tate in either of them. Nunes is a bigger woman, and may even be stronger in the early stages of any ground battle, but there's a huge difference between them here: Tate's brain works considerably faster on the ground than Nunes' does. I don't believe it's even particularly close between them when it comes to spacial awareness, positional knowledge and leveraging and manipulating limbs.
Go back and watch Nunes' last fight against Valentina Shevchenko. On a couple of different occasions during the first two rounds, she gets top position and literally stops to look at her coaches for advice instead of getting head control or immediately landing some ground 'n' pound.
Her BJJ is most effective when she has her foe hurt, like in her victory over Sara McMann. In the latter part of the second round against Shevchenko, who's quite a rudimentary grappler, she takes her back and appears to have a golden opportunity to finish a rear naked choke. But she hesitates and loses position, resulting in her eventually being on her own back.
I think a lot of people hold Tate's two losses to Rousey against her. She's a wizard on the ground and has become a better athlete since those losses to her arch-enemy. I haven't even mentioned wrestling yet; I think Nunes is good in this area and is a naturally strong woman, but the longer this goes, the more takedown opportunities I see opening up for Tate. I think Tate takes this department fairly comfortably, and I'll go even further and say that I think she's a level above.
Conditioning: Nunes Early or Tate Late?
Generally speaking, history has shown that Nunes tends to fade the longer a fight lasts and Tate tends to somehow get stronger. And that has influenced a lot of the picks I've seen for this Women's Bantamweight championship contest. But surely Nunes will have worked to try and overcome the cardio issues that have plagued her previously? Of course she will. However, I share some views (including Tate's own) that her fading in the latter part of fights isn't just down to her cardio, or lack of. It's more of a mental thing.
Nunes is a front-runner. When a fight isn't going her way, she appears to panic and doubt herself, whereas Tate can be close to being stopped and miraculously come back from the dead to snatch victory. I'll talk about this more below in the Mentality section.
Nunes is naturally bigger (she's fought at Featherweight before in Strikeforce) than Tate and strength-wise, there probably isn't much between them. Before Tate's fight with Holm at UFC 196, I would have said Nunes' superior size could be vital, but after seeing how Tate handled a bigger, stronger woman in Holm, I'm not sure it'll be much of a factor at all. I can't ignore their past performances, so even with Nunes' size advantage, this is another department Tate takes.
Mentality: This Is The Biggest Stage - She Who Has The Mental Strength Shall Prevail?
You're fully expecting me to give yet another department to 'Cupcake', aren't you? Yes and no. I'm not ready to write 'The Lioness' off like that. This is the biggest fight of her life, and some thrive on the very biggest stage and find strength they never imagined they had. If she comes out and is much more efficient with her energy, more tactical in her approach, I won't be surprised. She's 28 years old. The chances are, she is yet to hit her peak. This could be the night it all comes together for her.
But yes, there aren't many in MMA with the kind of resilience and mental strength that Miesha Tate has. A lot of people say it's her best asset, and I agree to an extent, but it's when you pair that kind of mental strength up with physical skills that magic happens. Make no mistake, she's a skilled fighter.
Tate has gone from strength to strength since she settled in Las Vegas, and in Bryan Caraway, Robert Follis and Jimmy Gifford, appears to have the perfect coaching team assembled for her needs as a fighter.
American Top Team is a world-renowned gym in MMA for a reason. It's a world class MMA gym full of world class coaches and fighters. Much like Xtreme Couture, some of the coaches there aren't MMA household names or headline-makers, but their credentials and results speak for themselves. Both these women have everything and everyone at their disposal to the best they can be.
Who, How and Why?
I'm going against all the many 'Nunes early' and 'Tate late' picks and predicting Tate early. Well, quite early. I'm going with her via 2nd round TKO. I think Nunes will start patiently but once she starts to throw strikes, especially kicks, she'll leave big takedown openings for Tate. I see Tate dominating her on the ground and landing some heavy elbows. The referee will have seen enough at the halfway mark of the second round. This will finally be the fight where Miesha Tate dominates from bell to bell and makes a huge statement to the rest of the challengers in the division.