What Miesha Tate’s championship win means for Ronda Rousey

Saturday’s UFC 196 co-main event between Holly Holm and Miesha Tate for the women’s bantamweight championship played out just as most people had expected. Right up until the end.

Tate had a moment of success in the second ground when she got Holm to the ground and came close to sinking in a submission. Holm survived, and then controlled the distance and out-pointed Tate in uneventful third and fourth rounds. Then in the fifth round, the world turned upside-down. Tate went for broke with about two minutes left in the fight and dove at Holm’s legs, taking her down before locking in a rear-naked choke and putting the champ to sleep. We have a new face of Women’s MMA.

Tate is a fan-favorite because of her polite demeanor and scrappy fighting-style. She won people over as a coach on the UFC’s reality television series, The Ultimate Fighter. Since then, she has been in slug-fests and dog-fights and anything else that can describe a fighter overcoming adversity to earn a win. She had her orbital bone broken against Sara McMann, she was down on the scorecards against Rin Nakai and Liz Carmouche, she was pitted against a dangerous striker in Jessica Eye. Tate won each of those fights.

Tate’s title win makes things incredibly interesting at the top of the women’s 135-pound division. In Holm, you had the woman who slayed Ronda Rousey. Rousey has been in a self-imposed Hollywood exile since suffering the first loss of her MMA career, and she didn’t even watch Saturday’s fight according to UFC president Dana White. But when White texted her the news of Tate’s win, Rousey replied, “Back to work.”

Rousey has defeated Tate twice before, taking Tate’s Strikeforce title and then defending the UFC belt in a largely one-sided affair. The reason Tate came off so well during her stint on The Ultimate Fighter was because she was pitted against Rousey, who came off as arrogant. Their rivalry has reached unprecedented levels with coaches, boyfriends and teammates getting involved. It’s almost a no-brainer to book Tate vs. Rousey 3.

Rousey has multiple movie obligations, but think about how awesome it would be if she returned to reclaim her title. And now that she doesn’t have to rematch Holm, who pretty much kicked her head off, the prospect of a return has to be infinitely more easy on her from a mental standpoint. She was thoroughly outclassed against Holm; making her comeback in an immediate rematch with her had to seem like an incredibly daunting task. But the prospect of returning against someone she knows she can beat like Tate, and the added incentive of destroying her top rival’s world by taking her title, has to be incredibly enticing for Rousey. She has the chance to get her belt back along with her mojo that made her so scary in the first place, and then taking the rematch with Holm.

But for now, Rousey is taking her talents to the big-screen so she likely won’t be available until November at the earliest. Tate has expressed a desire to be an active champion, so what are her other options? Holm had some success against Tate, but didn’t dominate by any means to warrant an immediate rematch. No. 4-ranked contender Amanda Nunes was also on Saturday’s card and had an underwhelming performance in a unanimous decision win over Valentina Shevchenko, but is on a three-fight win streak. There is third-ranked Cat Zingano, who defeated Tate via third-round TKO in what some viewed as an early stoppage. But we haven’t seen Zingano in over a year since she tapped out to Rousey in just 14 seconds.

The clear choice is Rousey. The fight sells itself: Tate, the woman who worked her way up to the top of the mountain, vs. Rousey, the”Big Bad Wolf” coming back to crush her rival’s dreams. In the post-fight press conference, Tate said she won’t pick her next opponent and she’ll fight whoever the UFC puts in front of her. But in the back of her mind she knows another bout with Rousey is on the horizon and the prospect of finally earning a win over her has to be intriguing, even if Tate won’t admit it.

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