The fighter's itch is a hard one to scratch.
The fight is a challenge unlike any other, built on lifelong preparation boiled down to a training camp of only a few months and a high-adrenaline problem-solving exercise of only a few minutes.
It's not hard to understand why it is, based on that intensity of experience and the fact a fighter's whole life revolves around the routine of preparing for it for as long as they compete, that athletes who retire rarely stay retired for long.
Randy Couture left at 42, only to return at 43 and fight eight more times across two weight classes. He dramatically won a heavyweight title in his post-retirement resurgence but also took needless damage against Brock Lesnar, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Lyoto Machida in particular. All the more needless considering he had transitioned to acting already, and it continues to pay the bills today.
Georges St-Pierre, lauded for doing retirement right in 2013, is back. He was evidently diminished after an ACL surgery robbed him of his explosiveness back then, scraping by Carlos Condit and outright losing to Johny Hendricks before the judges effectively saved his legacy with their own blindness. It's hard to imagine his return going well.
In an interview with Joe Buck (h/t MMAFighting), Matt Hughes talked about a return despite a 4-5 run to close out his career after a 41-4 run to start it. You also haven't seen him since 2011, and that's because he was an absolute shell of himself who was chased from the sport by being on the wrong end of a couple of first-round knockouts. Another case of the lure of the fight overwhelming all the better reasons to stay home.
And now MMA has its first prominent female who may be drawn back: Miesha Tate. The former bantamweight champion said at a recent press conference that she's not in any hurry to come back but that she’d probably do it for Ronda Rousey.
The thing is, this isn't like the many who have come before, with elder statesmen who refuse to leave gracefully or come back at the first offer.
This one makes sense.
Tate is still just 30, and this time a year ago, she was fresh off of winning her first UFC bantamweight title. She suffered a couple of losses thereafter, losing her belt at UFC 200 and struggling against Raquel Pennington at UFC 205, but at no point did she appear ready for pasture.
UFC 200 was an example of a big punch landing early and hurting her until she was finished, while 205 looked like a case of a quick turnaround that ran counter to preparation and readiness. A few more months to get herself right, and Tate might be a fight away from a title shot instead of working the UFC Q&A circuit.
If her status is as permanent as many MMA retirements that have come before her, perhaps this retirement is that break and she'll be back in the cage before you know it.
Rousey should welcome her.
Their first two bouts pioneered women's MMA at different points in its trajectory. Rousey beat Tate in 2012 with a horrifying armbar sequence that turned the former Olympian into an underground superstar. She won by armbar again in their second meeting, a more competitive scrap at UFC 168 that solidified both among the top stars in the UFC had, male or female.
Rousey, coming off of her second straight vicious KO loss, is in a state of unofficial retirement. Though her only acknowledgement of that has come in the form of a cryptic Instagram post, there's little to suggest she's keen to fight again. Even Dana White appears ready to focus on life without one of his top cash cows.
Rest assured, though, that a Tate fight might be one she'd sign on for. They hate each other, she knows she can beat Tate, having done it twice, and she knows that there's no bigger payday in the sport for her considering her diminished status as a dominant force.
Conversely, Tate, having improved greatly in their second meeting and more generally in the time since, might see the bout as a last chance at redemption before riding into the sunset for good. To go out beating her worst enemy is a vision that surely puts a smile on her face every time she thinks of it.
And the fans? Well, you can imagine having one last chance to see two of the most talented, charismatic female contenders the sport has known settle the score once and for all with no stakes beyond their distaste for one another would get their attention.
So if they can't stay gone—and history proves that mixed martial artists can't stay gone—they might as well come back for one another. Nothing else makes sense for them, and nothing else will be as interesting.