The lives of professional fighters are filled with uncertainty; their successes and failures play out in the public eye for all to see.
When the cage door closes and the battle of wills begin, it becomes a matter of opportunity. One walks away victorious, the other defeated, the outcome sometimes determined by only the slightest of margins.
What happens under the bright lights is what the fans are left to debate, but rarely are they given a glimpse into what it takes to make the walk to the cage in the first place.
This is what the climb looks like. This is The Fighting Life.
It's one o'clock in the afternoon, and already Miesha Tate is looking tired.
She is sitting at a table in Gibson's Steakhouse, an upscale eatery in downtown Chicago, with assorted members of the media surrounding her from all sides. Her presentation is self-assured and professional as she smiles and greets those who come over to introduce themselves.
She knows they have come to the storied restaurant to ask her questions about her rematch with Ronda Rousey, who just so happens to be sitting 15 feet away at the opposite end of the table, and those inquiries are going to be similar or exactly the same ones she has been answering for the past week as the two top female fighters under the UFC banner have traveled the country as a part of the recent World Tour promotion.
While the former Strikeforce champion may be tired, it is certainly for good reason. After a five o'clock wake-up call and a series of live hit promotional duties, the two women now have to sit down with a new set of print and digital media members and approach the topics offered with a level of enthusiasm that will hopefully elevate interest in not only their bout at UFC 168, but their upcoming season of The Ultimate Fighter as well.
Granted, doing promotional work is all a part of the job, but doing a press tour ratchets things up a notch in every aspect, especially for Tate and Rousey—two people who seem to bring the worst out of one another.
Though the two fighters have been at one another's throats for the better part of three months filming the reality show and doing the press tour, this isn't the case on Friday afternoon in Chicago. The UFC has wisely put Tate and Rousey at opposite ends of the table, and from the looks of it, both are appreciative of the decision.
If not for the sake of not having to look at one another, then absolutely for the chance to sit in a place free of conflict for the next two hours while they handle their media obligations. There is no doubt the questions that are about to come Tate's way will be loaded with attempts to get her to bomb vitriolic barbs at her opponent in order to get click-heavy runs on the articles the writers are looking to produce.
Tate knows this to be true because every step of her two-year long dance with Rousey has been exactly this way, and the immediate road ahead doesn't appear to be any different. And perhaps this is the real reason the 26-year-old is looking tired in the early afternoon.
While lack of sleep and a non-stop run across the country certainly have contributed to how she feels going into the media lunch at Gibson's, it is quite possible repetitious inquiries of specific focus, and the next wave of such about to arrive, have played the largest role in her mindset.
Nevertheless, once the interviews begin, Tate is all business. Vibrant and in the moment, she answers each question in direct fashion as if it were the first time she was being asked about the subject matter. For the next two hours, the chair to her immediate left is never empty for more than a few minutes as reporters sit down beside her to get their time in.
Two hours later, all the interviews are over, and a car to take her to the airport is on its way. The media has come and gone, and the current No. 1 contender to the women's bantamweight crown is all smiles as she and long-time boyfriend Bryan Caraway enjoy a few laughs at the expense of a member of the UFC's PR staff.
As she sits back in her chair, there is a sense of ease in her posture that comes as the result of the finish line quickly approaching. She is thankful the press tour has officially come to an end, but on another level, she is grateful her time will now be spent inside the gym as she prepares for the biggest fight of her career on December 28.
And it is that aspect of the fight game Tate is absolutely in love with. While the rivalry with Rousey is intense and has kept her at the forefront of a growing sport, it is her passion for mixed martial arts that has pushed her forward. She's not only battled for personal respect on some of the sport's biggest stages but also played a very large role in bringing WMMA to where it is at the current time.
Where it is easy for those details to become lost in the "Rousey/Tate shuffle," in the mind of the 135-pound title challenger, there are not more important details to be found. Her journey through the sport has been filled with sacrifice and perseverance, and with the opportunity to claim UFC gold within her grasp, Tate will have the chance to turn years of hard work into something truly remarkable.
"It is one of those things that is really difficult to put into words," Tate told Bleacher Report. "It is such an emotional point in my life where I feel I've worked very hard for a really long time. I want it to work out in my favor so badly that I can't see it going any other way. I know what it feels like to lose to Ronda Rousey. I've been there and done that, and I don't want to experience those feelings or emotions again.
"I realize the mistakes that I made by underestimating my opponent the first time around and trying to devalue her by saying and thinking she didn't deserve it. Now, she is the champion for a reason. She is the undisputed UFC world champion and I can't argue that.
"I'm going into this fight with a different mind frame as the challenger. I have a whole new perspective on things and I feel will not be capable to manipulate me emotionally in this fight. I still believe I have the skill set to beat her. If I didn't have the skill set then I wouldn't have been able to take her back in the first round and get out of one of her armbar attempts.
"That was two years ago and she has been on my mind ever since then," Tate added. "To say I haven't become a better fighter because of Ronda Rousey would be an ignorant thing for me to say. I have learned a lot, both inside and outside of the cage, and I believe I will be able to take the belt home with me on December 28."
While the friction between Rousey and Tate has remained a constant in the dialogue around the MMA community for the past two years, there was a period in WMMA where Tate was fighting a much different battle. Just before the Olympic judoka burst onto the scene in Strikeforce, Tate had defeated Marloes Coenen to claim the women's bantamweight champion.
It was a goal the scrappy Washington-based fighter had been working for years to accomplish. Tate battled her way through the 135-pound Strikeforce Challengers tournament to earn the opportunity to fight Coenen, and earning championship gold made it seem as if the next great chapter of her career was about to begin.
With former champion and the face of women's MMA Gina Carano gone, Tate and Chris "Cyborg" Justino were the only two names holding the flag for females in the sport. It was a responsibility Tate would not take lightly, and when Rousey emerged into the picture in brash fashion, their opposite mindsets immediately clashed.
Where Tate once derided Rousey for her lack of appreciation for women's MMA as a whole, she has now taken a different respective on her rival's approach.
"Women's MMA has grown extensively and it's actually a really incredible accomplishment," Tate said. "I didn't think it would happen so fast. A couple years ago, I was at the forefront of the sport as the Strikeforce title holder and the UFC wasn't even something to be considered at that point. I wanted that, but I felt it was probably another five years or so away from happening.
"Then Ronda came along and our rivalry was pretty much right off the bat. As ironic as it was actually, I was invited to come train with Rousey by 'Judo' Gene LeBell. This was before I knew she was at all. He told me he had this great girl training with him and that she was still a little green as far as MMA goes, but he really wanted me to come train with her. She was still an amateur and I thought it would be a great idea.
"But shortly after that she popped on to the scene with Strikeforce and she came at me so disrespectfully I was like, 'Whoa, whoa, whoa. Wait a minute. Who is this chick?' I would never in my life dream of disrespect someone in a higher position than me. I idolized Marloes Coenen for instance and I would never disrespected her even though I wanted to be the champion. I looked at Marloes as the real deal.
"Going into our fight, I was nervous, excited, and honored to get into the cage with her. When I won the title I was in awe because I couldn't believe I had just defeated one of my idols. That was my mentality going into it and Ronda had a much different mentality.
"She came into this sport was just very brash. She didn't care who you were. She was like, 'I don't care if you are a title holder or an amateur, I'll beat you.' She created waves because she disrespected a lot of people along the way.
"While her approach and 'I don't give a f***' attitude didn't create a very warm welcome from a lot of female fighters in the sport, ultimately she was right. She had the talent and had the skill set to back it up. There is nothing I can say to argue that point. She was right.
"But I see it now. Her big picture was to come in here, create waves, and draw attention to women's MMA," Tate added. "She didn't care who liked it or who didn't like it, she was going to make it be known that she belonged here.
"I didn't see that at first. I just saw a very disrespectful young woman who hadn't earned her place. Then she came in there and fought line one hell of a fight and took the title from me. Afterwards I was like, 'Wow. She's legit. She can back up what she talks.' What can I say? She's a badass."
As Tate begins to prepare for the biggest fight of her career against Rousey at UFC 168, women's MMA is still fighting the battle to be accepted with the MMA fanbase. While the females competing inside the cage are supported from the diehard portion of the fight community, the casual fans of the sport have been slow to latch on.
Naturally that process is slower with the women's bantamweight division being the most recently added weight class to the UFC roster, but the females under the UFC banner are not alone in this regard. The lighter weight classes on the male side of things also receives similar criticism, and Tate believes these scenarios are the result of a particular stigma more than anything else.
"The problem with fans' approach to the lighter weight fighters is that a lot of men who watch the fights don't want to believe a 135-pound man could kick the sh** out of them," Tate said. "You get men who are 230-pounds, who aren't fighters, and they watch a bantamweight fight in the UFC and they sit at home and think they could beat the guys they are watching. It's a false perception because while they like to believe they could, it wouldn't happen.
"The same thing applies when men watch women fight. A lot of men don't like to think that a woman could beat them up, and the truth is, I think that Ronda and I both could beat the crap out of a lot of men.
"It's a different process for men to have to realize that. These women are badasses. They train every single day and they fight men in practice every single day. Yes, they could probably beat the sh** out of you.
"It is a battle to break down the stereotype and the barrier that women are so far beneath men physically. Yeah, there are differences. We don't have as much testosterone pumping through our veins but we train our butts off and work really hard to develop our skill sets. We are not these delicate, fragile flowers most people in general try to portray women as. We are not barefoot and pregnant in a kitchen and I don't think that is a crime.
"Fans like to find a way to relate to the fighters and there is an obvious difference between people who are actually doing it and people who like to think that they could," Tate added in conclusion.
"The fans live vicariously through us and that is what is so entertaining about it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but it is ignorant for someone who has never stepped inside the cage to assume they could do it better. Or to assume because they are a man they could do it better. It's just not accurate and nowhere near the truth.
"I think the more people come to realize this, the better off the sport will be."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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