LAS VEGAS — When it came down to it, with everything she had ever worked for in mixed martial arts on the line, all Miesha Tate had to do was hold on.
It was right there, vindication, the realization of a dream, and future opportunities within her grasp. And Tate just squeezed and squeezed on Holly Holm’s neck until referee John McCarthy’s ordered her to release.
Suddenly, in that moment, Tate was the UFC women’s bantamweight champion and another upset had turned the division spectacularly on its head.
In a bracket that contains the UFC’s two most recognizable female stars in Ronda Rousey and Holm, Tate, the 29-year-old whose drive to the top has been ridden with pitfalls and frustrations, is the queen of them all.
Tate had been twice defeated by Rousey but gave her a tougher fight than anyone apart from Holm, who beat Rousey in Australia in November. She has been among the pioneers for women’s MMA but has scarcely seen the rewards of it.
For fighting Holm she reportedly received just $46,000, plus the same amount again for clinching victory.
On a broader scale Tate’s triumph at the MGM Grand Garden Arena now means that there is all kinds of interest and intrigue in the women’s bantamweight division.
Not just because of Rousey, the crossover star who conquered all before her before losing to Holm last year. Not just because of Holm, who transitioned from being a boxing world champion to an MMA belt holder and not just because Tate, the new women’s titlist.
It is because of the myriad of opportunities that lay ahead. Tate and Holm could do it all again, perhaps as soon as UFC 200, the biggest promotion in the company’s history, in Las Vegas on July 9.
A rematch between Holm and Rousey is a given at some point and would be a blockbuster, one that fans have clamored for since that epic upset at Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium.
Then there is the possibility of Tate vs. Rousey chapter 3, which could offer Rousey the chance to reclaim her crown and give Tate the opportunity for revenge.
In any case, the women’s bantamweights may now be the most intriguing division the UFC has to offer, just three years and two weeks after it was initially implemented.
If fair is fair, that will translate into greater paydays and an avoidance of the kind of paltry number Tate took home on Saturday.
Tate looked up against it from early on against Holm, with her left eye partially closing after a fierce straight punch in the opening round. In the second, Tate had a huge opportunity, taking Holm down and attempting a choke but failing to pull it off.
After Holm stayed on her feet and dominated rounds three and four, Tate finally got her chance once more in the fifth, pulling Holm to the ground and locking her forearms around her from behind.
She locked in the grip, then held on even when Holm flipped her over her shoulder. Letting go this time would likely mean defeat, and who knows when another chance would come.
Instead, Tate refused to release, refused to lose and now holds the keys to the kingdom, with future riches lining her path.