On March 26th, Strikeforce returns to the Save Mart Center in Fresno, California for the seventh installment of its prospect-building Challengers Series. The card features the inspirational return of Lavar Johnson following the heinous shooting that had many doctors questioning if he'd ever walk again. He'll headline, trying to mark his miraculous comeback with a win against Lolohea Mahe.
In anticipation of the event, I got a chance to speak with the lovely and talented Miesha Tate. She will be taking on dynamic, undefeated prospect Zoila Frausto on the televised portion of the card in a matchup that could very well set up the next challenger for current Strikeforce 135lb-champion, Sarah Kaufman.
In the interview, we ask what she thinks of her opponent, get her predictions for the next round of FCF's ongoing tournament to find her a challenger, ask her how she thinks a rematch with Sarah Kaufman would go, get her candid take on the battered face of women's MMA, and find out what the future holds for her after her fighting career is over.
KF: You're the current FCF Women's Bantamweight Champion, and they've made waves with a tournament that includes some of the best women in the world all gunning for a shot at your belt as well as a Strikeforce contract. Do you have any predictions on how the next round will go?
MT: Well, there's Adrianna Jenkins vs. Jan Finney. I think that if “AJ” can get the fight to the ground she'll win the fight. If Jan Finney keeps it standing, then I think she's going to win the fight. She looked really impressive in her last fight, it looked like her takedown defense had improved tremendously, she looked on point, very crisp, athletic, and explosive. If she comes again as that fighter I think she'll win, so I'd probably go with Jan Finney.
Shayna Baszler's replacement opponent for Jen Tate is now Alexis Davis. She's lacking in experience, as Shayna has a few more fights then she does. I think their pretty fair on the ground, and pretty even. I think Shayna has an advantage on the feet. It would not surprise me if Alexis came out with the victory because she very determined, working her way up the rankings, and she's hungry, definitely no slouch.
If I had to put my money on it I'd probably bet on Shayna. She's really made a good come around after talking with her at that last performance against Megumi Yabushita, she just looked really on point, and back on track, and nothings really going to get in her way. I think that's definitely going to be fight of the tournament.
KF: Do you have a problem with being considered a prospect when you've fought some of the best 135lb fighters in the world already?
MT: No! I'd hope to be considered a prospect, you know, that's what I'm working towards. Everybody has to start as a prospect before they become a world champion. I think at one point Randy Couture was a prospect, Chuck Liddell was a prospect, and Gina Carano was a prospect, so I think I'm just following in those footsteps.
KF: Well you could still consider Carano a prospect if you wanted, I mean she's fought a number of high quality women, but all of them have been lighter than her. Cyborg was the first girl she ever fought that was her size. So there are still a number of long term questions to ask about her moving forward.
MT: Well that's true, but to most people they would consider her a success already, just because of her popularity and fame, but as far as fighting goes she's just very well publicized. She's hyped, you know she's very hyped.
We have weight classes for a reason, if you're a 35-pounder it doesn't make sense to fight a 45-pounder, much less a big 45-pounder like Gina is a big 45-pounder. She doesn't walk close to that weight she has to diet down, and then she cuts. So day of the fight she could easily could have 15-20lbs heavier than the girls she was fighting, and that can make anybody look good. The girls had enough skill which made her look good but they didn't have the weight behind them, to apply it, she just threw them around.
KF: How tired are you with being asked about Gina Carano?
MT: I find Gina a very fascinating individual. People can ask me the same question all day long, those are just my opinions. I don't mind doing interviews and being asked general questions because I feel each one targets a somewhat different audience, everybody has their websites that they go to and the more I can get out there and share my opinion the better. So it doesn't really matter to me.
KF: Let's get to your fight on the 26th, you've been pretty critical of Zoila in the run-up to this fight using words like “arrogant, childish” and my personal favorite, “ghetto.”
MT: (snickers) Good eye.
KF: I think it's fair to say you don't like her very much, care to comment further?
MT: I don't think it's fair to say that I don't like her because I don't know her. I don't care for the way she projects herself. I just feel that the way she presents herself, the way she carries herself, the way I've seen her talk, and the opinions I've gotten from close friends of mine and the people who's opinions I think matter in the MMA world, none of them really care for her, or are big fans of her, and that adds to my opinion. But like I said I have not met her in person, but from what I can tell, I'm not her biggest fan.
She comes off as very arrogant on her myspace page. I use this example, she has a photo where she's standing over Elisha Helsper and she's throwing a punch, she says “give me my lunch money.”
Then there's one where she's kicking Elisha in the face and her toenail comes off and cuts her underneath the eye, and she writes something along the lines of “to all you haters, that wasn't my toenail that was a clean cut from my foot, or whatever” and you can see on the video it's clearly her foot that comes up under the eye and cuts her. I just felt like, have some respect, you know? It just sounded immature, and it rubbed me the wrong way.
I think, she thinks, she's a lot better than she really is, and I think she's due for some humbling.
KF: Zoila has a style you've struggled in the past against, she's an athletic, kickboxer with good use of range, and solid scramble ability, how do you think this fight is going to go?
MT: I know overall that I have a lot more experience than her as an MMA fighter, I've taken my losses, along with my wins. I always feel like I learn the most about myself when I lose. I have two losses on my record, and those are tremendous growing points for me. Obviously she's 5-0, so she's getting to the point where she's getting comfortable thinking that she's really good and that she's beaten everybody.
Let me tell you, It's very humbling to lose, and you can take that, and learn from it, and I don't think she's experienced that yet. I feel like she's a little cocky for my liking. I don't think this is a good style match up for her.
I think if Elena Maxwell and Sarah Kaufman aren't going to knock me out [she won't.] Elena's a two-time K-1 World Champion kickboxer, and I took her down with relative ease and beat her, and I had a really close war with Sarah Kaufman, that was over a year ago. I've improved tremendously, my stand up is a lot more comfortable, I come from a wrestling background so obviously I'm confident on the ground as well.
I just don't think it's a good style match up for her... I just don't.
KF: Speaking of your amateur career in your first fight you were stopped because of damage sustained in the clinch, with so much of the fight taking place there, potentially, do you think it's something you should be concerned about?
MT: I've worked with people who are like her style, I feel comfortable with it. I don't feel very threatened by her, obviously this is MMA and anything can happen realistically. She's a big kicker, she throws a lot of crazy superman punches. She's athletic and explosive, I'll give her that, but I feel like the risks that she takes to do crazy stuff like that opens her up for a lot.
A lot of the strikes she's wide open for her hands are down a lot. She leaves herself wide open for takedowns, and on the ground, if she thinks that holding onto my head is going to save her she's got another thing coming. I think that's what's she's tried to do before, and anybody experienced is going to know how to counter that.
So it's not a good style matchup, and I don't think she has the time to change what she's going to need to change to match my style very well. That's just her style, I just suggest she keeps both her feet on the ground.
KF: Does the hyper-sexuality of Women's MMA bother you at all? Or do you feel that it's necessary with the demographic of MMA in general trending 18-40 male?
MT: I wish it wasn't that way, I really do, because I think there's a lot of talented female fighters out there that don't get the opportunities that a more attractive girl would get, and it's unfortunate because I don't think it should be based on that stuff, but that's the way it is in every avenue of life.
Generally people who are more attractive sell products better, that's just the way it is. It's not to say that someone else isn't just as capable at doing something, but we're a very visual society, and with MMA, like you said the age group targeting, it's smart on the marketing side of these companies to invest in people who can not only deliver the product that their asking to be delivered, but do it with the added incentive of another aspect of attraction.
They're looking at it from a marketing standpoint which will bring them revenue which is what it's all about at the end of the day, revenue, growing, more revenue. That's just the name of the game. It's not necessarily fair, and I don't want women to be exploited, at the same time I don't think there's anything wrong with being beautiful and being a fighter.
If your comfortable in your own skin, and your comfortable being feminine I don't think you should be patronized for that.
KF: Staying on this topic, do you think ring girls make it more difficult for a male audience to view the women in the cage as fighters, and not sex symbols?
MT: Yes, I do think it does effect that. I think it stimulates them to start thinking other things when they see beautiful women, and then their going to be looking at the fighters and comparing us, which would cause their mind track to be a little bit off.
It's been a common thing though, that sex and violence sells. It's not going to change that's the way it is, there are always going to be ring girls, and that element to it. But, I don't focus on that because that doesn't make or break me as a fighter.
At the end of the day, I don't focus on that stuff because I could really careless about it when I'm in the cage. I don't pay attention to the ring girls, or look at the ring girls I'm just focused on being the best fighter I can be and winning that fight. People can think what they want I just stay optimistic about it, and focus on the people who take me seriously for what I do.
KF: You fought Sarah Kaufman about a year ago now, and the way Strikeforce books these days it's certainly possible you could get a rematch for her belt. In a potential 25-minute fight, do you see the outcome being different?
MT: Yeah, I do. I think it would definitely be more in my favor, I think even 3, 5 minute rounds because we fought 3,3s. Sarah Kaufman has awesome, awesome takedown defense. She's really good at that, she's really good at keeping you at the end of her punches, just far enough away so if you shoot she has enough time to slide her hips out underneath her.
She's not an easy person to takedown necessarily but in the first round I got her down, but I only had 18 seconds to work. I passed to half guard but by the time I did that, the round was over.
If I had 2 minutes and 18 seconds, maybe something would have happened. Maybe I would have finished the fight, or maybe I would have at least won on the score cards with control and top position on the ground, and I would have won a 29-28 decision.
It definitely works in the grapplers favor to have more time. So yeah, I'd be excited to fight her again in a longer fight. And I'm working on my conditioning for my gameplan, because it wouldn't be the same as it would have been for Kim Couture.
KF: You took your fight with Sarah Kaufman last minute, correct?
MT: Very last minute, like two weeks last minute.
KF: Did you ever want to wrestle in the Olympics?
MT: You know I never really did think about it. When I joined the wrestling team in high school, nobody really had wrestled before. Like my great-uncle wrestled, but other than that, wrestling was not a big family event, or anything we were ever a part of, and I just did it because I didn't like basketball, and there was no other sport to do. So, I went out for wrestling because I didn't want to be bored out of my mind.
Then I fell in love with the sport but my knowledge was very limited, I didn't know it could evolve into anything more that high school wrestling, so I never really looked at the big picture.
When I got started in MMA, I never really looked back, because I could wrestle inside of it. Then when I started making money at it, I said this is better because I can make a living doing it, and I can still wrestle at the same time. So this is even better because it's more exciting.
KF: Ok Miesha, I'll leave you with this. When time inevitably catches up with you, your probably not going to be able to retire to a Villa in Italy overlooking the Tuscan sunrise. So what do you plan on doing with yourself, when this is all said and done?
MT: I have my own company right now, it's called Takedown Enterprises. It's very new, and it's very small. Ideally, I'd like to open my own gym some day, while focusing, and catering to female fighting, helping to promote, manage, and push them. Of course the doors would be open to the men as well, but I feel like the women are so much more in need of that kind of support then the men are. I feel that the men have a lot of options, and opportunity, and the girls not so much.
So I kinda want to do that, and maybe this MMA thing will open up new doors for me to make more money and settle down, because yeah your right, it's a short-lived career when you look at the whole picture of what a regular career would be.
MMA is pretty short-lived.
Last but not least though, I'd like to open a cake decorating business because I'm a really artistic person and I enjoy doing that, and I've done it since I was little, little, little. So why not, life's too short to do a job you don't want to do, and waste your whole life away. I'm very interested in finding what makes you happy and then going to that because you only live once. So why do something everyday that makes you miserable?
KF: Ok, this is the part where you plug the sponsors and I go to bed.
MT: I'd like to thank Projekt Label, Tussle Fight Wear, Cage Candy, Caged Steel, and Fight University.
KF: Thank you for dealing with my shenanigans, hopefully I'll get to talk to you again, and good luck later this month.
MT: No problem, thanks for your time.
Strikeforce: Challengers Series 7 will air live on Showtime at 8:45pm PST/11:45pm EST on March 26th, in HD. Tickets are still on sale at ticketmaster.com.