Miesha Tate is already one of the most marketable athletes on the UFC roster. Now she just stepped into an entirely new level of visibility.
On Friday morning, it was announced the former Strikeforce women’s bantamweight champion and perennial threat to the UFC’s 135-pound women’s crown has signed with KHI, which is the management firm owned by NASCAR superstar Kevin Harvick. The former bantamweight title challenger now joins lightweight staple Donald Cerrone on KHI's roster and is the first female athlete the company has signed.
With Harvick’s team at the helm, Tate sees tremendous opportunities ahead of her, and she’s ready to explore new avenues that will come.
“I’m excited about the entire process,” Tate told Bleacher Report. “I think this is the smartest move I’ve ever made in my career because KHI and I are on the exact same page. I want to build my brand, and that is what their management company is about. For me it was a no-brainer. I discussed this a little bit with Donald Cerrone, and he spoke so highly of his management. And I’m telling you that is not something that is common in this sport. Normally, when I ask someone about their management they have varying things to say, but I’ve never seen someone light up the way Cerrone did when talking about working with KHI.
“I also love the fact that KHI is still new to the MMA game, and that’s great because there is room for all of us to grow together. I love that they have things outside of MMA to offer me. I think a cross promotion between the UFC and NASCAR is a no-brainer, and this is going to be a very successful partnership.”
The 27-year-old Washington native has been in the professional ranks for the better part of the past decade and is widely recognized as one of the fighters who helped usher women’s MMA to a new level of popularity.
Yet, despite her position as one of the top-ranked female mixed martial artists on the planet, the sponsorship landscape in MMA has grown thin over the years, leaving even top names like Tate having to battle to carve out their own place in the market.
Competing in a crowded field is difficult business, and the rapidly shifting environment in the sport often left Tate lingering in uncertainty all the way up to the week of her fights. That said, operating in that fashion is not how KHI does business, and Tate has already experienced a tremendous shift in the short amount of time she has been on the company roster.
“This is obviously a brand new deal, but I’ve already noticed such a big difference,” Tate said. “It has been a short amount of time, but they are unlike any management company I’ve ever worked with before. The fact I already know who my sponsors are going to be and we are still roughly six weeks out from the fight, that’s insane to me. I’ve never had anything like that before. I’ve always had situations where it’s the last minute, and I’m still finding things out. Sometimes it would be a week out from the fight and things are still being finalized and I’m getting my fight uniform at weigh-ins.
“I just thought that was how management in MMA worked, but that’s not the case with KHI. The direction I want to go is up. I want to move forward. I want to advance and be more involved with anything that I can. I’m at a very ambitious point of my career, and I want to strike while the iron is hot. They are totally on the same page and are very easy to connect with. We both agree that the overall goal is to build the brand, and I feel like we are going to be very successful in doing so.”
With the signing of Tate to his company’s roster, Harvick has taken another step further into the MMA realm. The former Daytona 500 winner and perennial Sprint Cup contender broke into the fight game by signing his longtime friend Cerrone to his management team last April, and the hard-charging lightweight has been an ideal client.
In addition to being in the midst of a four-fight winning streak, Cerrone has touted his Budweiser sponsorship every step of the way, even cracking celebratory post-fight beers on the press conference dais. Cowboy’s success inside the Octagon opened the doors for Harvick to expand his team, and the Stewart-Haas Racing Team representative believed Tate would be a perfect fit.
“We have been looking to sign a female athlete for some time,” Harvick told Bleacher Report. “We were so excited when she called just to look into what the management company was all about, that when Josh (Jones, director of business development) hung up the phone I told him that whatever he needed to do to make it happen…he needed to make it happen. It brings a lot to the table for us, and I think it is going to open a lot of new doors.
“From a credibility standpoint it brings a lot to the table for us. Miesha is a great person, has a great personality and we like the way she goes about handling things. As she has already mentioned, the sponsors have already bought into what she has going and what we have developed amongst our groups. It’s going to be fun to see it all progress, and our main focus is to develop a program that Miesha likes.
“The main thing is that we develop a system she likes and is comfortable for her so that she can focus on her training and not worry about what we are doing,” he added. “It’s important that she knows these things are really going to happen. She is going to get paid and get all the things she is supposed to get so she won’t have to think about those things and can put all her energy into training, fighting and doing the things she needs to get ready to go inside the cage. It’s exciting as a company, and we look forward to building those things going forward.”
While Harvick will continue to do the majority of his business on the track, he definitely sees a growing relationship between NASCAR and what happens under the UFC banner. Both sports are supported by homegrown fanbases that are widely recognized throughout the sports world for the passion they bring to live events, and Harvick sees several common bonds that fans in either avenue can relate to.
The two-time Busch Series champion has been impressed with the crossover success Cerrone has experienced and believes Tate will only serve to further connect the two fanbases.
“I think there is definitely some crossover from one sport to the other,” Harvick said. “Obviously, the UFC has that younger demographic that we struggle with from the NASCAR standpoint. And for us that’s important because it gives us an outlet we don’t necessarily have enough of on the NASCAR side of it when we cross over into the UFC side of things. There are a lot of people in the fight world that will come over to check out NASCAR just because we are involved in it. Donald has brought a lot of fans over, and I believe Miesha will do the same.”
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.