Miesha Tate is out of a ‘dark place’ and ready for UFC redemption

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Back on Nov. 12, 2016, the night sanctioned mixed martial arts made its debut at Madison Square Garden, Miesha Tate showed up to fight as she had any other night.

She had no idea that she’d be walking away from the octagon after her UFC 205 bout against Raquel Pennington as a retired fighter. 

“No, not at all,” Tate told The Post over the phone last Thursday, when asked if retirement was on her mind before the bout. “I didn’t realize I was gonna feel like that because, to be honest, I had not been in a good place mentally and emotionally many times, more times than not, going into fights. 

“And I always just thought, you know what, you just turn it on anyways. It doesn’t matter how much duress you’re under, how much you’re going through emotionally or mentally. It doesn’t matter because you’re tougher than that. This is conversations I have, internal dialogue, with myself.”

As busy as she has kept during the intervening four years away from fighting — taking on an executive role with ONE Championship, co-hosting on SiriusXM, starting a family, to name a few professional and personal milestones  — the itch to return to competition has returned. Tate (18-7, 10 finishes), it was revealed last month, will return to the octagon on July 17 against Marion Reneau (9-7, eight finishes) after nearly five years away.

Before any of that could happen, however, Tate needed to climb out of the muck and mire of inner strife.

‘A rude awakening’

On that night in Manhattan, four months after losing by rear-naked choke submission to Amanda Nunes in her first bantamweight title defense and just moments after hearing Pennington’s name announced as the winner by unanimous decision, it dawned on her: Toughing it out no longer worked. Something had to change.

“It was kind of a rude awakening,” Tate said. “There’s only so much a person can take, and I kind of had to find that out the hard way.”

So Tate, just past her 30th birthday and less than a year removed from the crowning achievement of her professional career — claiming the UFC crown from Holly Holm via fifth-round submission — surprised herself by telling more than 20,000 in attendance at the Garden and millions more tuned in for the Conor McGregor-headlined pay-per-view by announcing her retirement. That night, she said in the cage that “it’s not my time anymore,” deflecting shine in the direction of her former “The Ultimate Fighter” selection Pennington.

But it was deeper than simply passing the torch, despite nearly nine years as a pro. After all the other times when Tate could power through turmoil and perform, win or lose, she couldn’t find the “on” switch in New York.

“The fact that I wasn’t able to turn it on in that fight meant that I had really reached my breaking point, and it was a really bad feeling, to be honest,” Tate says, “It was a really bad feeling. It was a very ugly place to be, and I was mentally and emotionally in just a really dark place.”

“That fight with Raquel, I just wasn’t there anymore. I just had nothing left to give.”

‘I had been so stubborn’

With fighting behind her, Tate realized the need to “slow down.” She had long defined herself primarily as a fighter and a significant other but sought to stare into the abyss of uncertainty. She severed ties with longtime boyfriend, coach and fellow UFC veteran Bryan Caraway. In doing so, she would be “facing my fears of being alone, facing my fears of being on my own, completely independent.”

First came stepping back and taking stock of where she was.

“Look, I don’t know how to fix what’s wrong,” Tate told herself, “but I know how to stop making it worse. And that means just taking a step away from all the things that are making me feel like I’m drowning.”

Resolving to “change everything,” Tate went on a road trip with her dog, Skooter, as an early step toward recovering and finding balance. This was no cure-all, but it put her on the path toward building herself back up into a woman free of the toxicity she’s known throughout much of her athletic career.

Tate emphasizes that healing was no overnight fix. It took years to rebuild who she perceived herself to be.

“There were many moments of evaluating myself and trying to be very honest with myself,” Tate said, “… not just trying to be stubborn, which I had been my whole career.”

Stubbornness, Tate says, played a major role in the deterioration of her relationship with her parents. It had become “very strained and damaged” over a long period due to her unhealthy relationship with Caraway and her desire to figure that situation out on her own. She had “pushed them away.”

“They understood that it was toxic, but me being stubborn and hard-headed, I didn’t want to accept that.” Tate said. “I didn’t want to be wrong. I wanted to make it work. … I didn’t know how to get away from it, and I had lost connections with the support systems that could’ve maybe helped me, emotionally and mentally in those situations.”

“I had been so stubborn about it my whole life that you kind of feel like you have to come with your tail between your legs and be like, ‘Yeah, I was wrong,’ ” Tate added. “I wasn’t prepared; I didn’t have the strength enough to do that. I just walked away. And then, I slowly started to heal. I started to mend those relationships.”

Gifts from God

Now 34, Tate is grateful for all the blessings the past four years have brought into her life.

With partner and mixed martial artist Johnny Nuñez, Tate is the proud mother of 2-year-old Amaia and baby Daxton, to whom she gave birth last June while living in Singapore as a vice president with ONE Championship. In fact, it was shortly after Daxton arrived that the fire to fight again returned.

“Having children has been such a rewarding, amazing gift from God, to be honest,” Tate said. “It turned my life around. It brought my family back together.”

That reformed family bond includes her mother and father, with whom Tate joyfully says she has an “amazing relationship” again. 

She found success beyond the cage in broadcasting and in her role with ONE, which will host its first live TNT-aired event at 9 p.m. ET Wednesday — although her resumed MMA career in the UFC means she will be stepping away from that position later this month. 

With her life outside the cage finally in order, Tate feels she can still pursue her dreams of returning to the apex of the MMA world and once again become the champion of the 135-pound weight class, over which Nunes still reigns. But as much as she doesn’t want to downplay her desires to climb that mountain again, she exudes comfort with her life on the whole regardless of whether she reclaims UFC gold.

“I get to go into this career, and I don’t feel like I’m just Miesha Tate the fighter and, like, what else?” Tate says. “I already know what else I am and what I can do and what I’m capable of. So honestly, if it doesn’t pan out, if I don’t become a world champion again, you know, I have other great things that I can be happy [about] and go home [to] at the end of the day.

“If I lose a fight, it’s not the end of the world. It’s just, I want to do this. There’s not the extra pressure.”

For Tate to feel this at ease is something she couldn’t have fathomed before her hiatus from the octagon. Today, she sums up her state of being with a single word, which escapes her mouth as if freed from captivity:

“Incredible.”

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