USA TODAY US Edition
MIESHA TATE’S ‘GOT A LOVE FOR’ FIGHTING
It started with ripping the heads off Barbie dolls. Now she faces bantamweight champion Holly Holm
Retracing the path to her fight against Holly Holm on Saturday night at UFC 196, Miesha Tate recalled her days playing with Barbie dolls. Playing much differently than other little girls in Tacoma, Wash.
Tate said she would hold one Barbie, hand another Barbie to her mother, and then the two engaged in hand-to-hand doll combat. They warred — much like mixed martial arts fighters, in fact — until one of the dolls’ heads popped off.
“That’s how I determined the winner,” Tate, 29, told USA TODAY Sports with a chuckle Monday. “Probably a good indication that I had a taste for competitive sports, I suppose.”
The decapitated Barbie dolls revealed far more than that, said Robert Follis, a trainer who works with Tate and says there’s an important distinction between “people who can fight” and “people who love to fight.”
“You get a few that are just pure fighters, and I think Miesha is one of those,” Follis said.
“She’s got that combative spirit in her. She’s good, and part of what makes her so good is she’s got a love for it.”
Just as important, Tate said, is that she was given choices during a journey that led to her fight against Holm, UFC’s reigning bantamweight champion after Holm’s stunning knockout of Ronda Rousey in November. The permission to brawl with Barbie dolls illustrated something important about her parents.
“They’ve never restricted anything for me,” Tate said. “They may have grimaced a few times.”
Grimace No. 1: As a freshman in high school, Tate was one of two girls to join the wrestling team.
“She was such a sweetheart,” said Bobby Brokenshire, an assistant coach on that team who worked with Tate. “But when she gets out on that mat, it’s like she turns a switch where she was pretty brutal.
“I mean, she got out there and got after people — boys and girls, it didn’t matter.”
Four years later, during the state’s inaugural tournament for girls, Tate won her weight class and earned her first nickname — “Takedown.”
Grimace No. 2: Upon enrolling at Central Washington University in 2005, rather than joining a sorority, Tate found a different social outlet — the mixed martial arts club co-founded by Bryan Caraway, her future trainer and husband.
She learned jiujitsu and, in time, how to throw and take a punch — including one that broke her nose.
Grimace No. 3: Before completing her second year at Central Washington, Tate withdrew from school to focus on MMA even though women were competing for minuscule purses.
“‘Hey, Mom, Dad, thanks for paying for my college tuition but I decided that I want to get punched in the face,’ ” Tate said while recalling her decision. “I’m pretty sure they weren’t so keen on that idea either.”
They probably weren’t so keen about the first night of her pro career in 2007, either, when Tate got knocked out 30 seconds into a bout. But soon she started to manhandle opponents like Barbie dolls.
She won 11 of her next 12 fights, which led to a heavily anticipated match against Rousey. Tate lost by armbar submission in the first round of that 2012 fight, and in a 2013 rematch she pushed Rousey into the third round before losing again by armbar submission.
Before that fight, Tate enlisted the help of Follis. Since then, Tate has won four consecutive fights to improve her overall record to 17-5.
Tate said Follis has served as a buffer between Tate and Caraway, who has been the lead trainer during preparations for the bout against Holm.
“Rob is basically the buoy between the boat and the dock,” Tate said. “It works perfectly when you put all three pieces together.”
In essence, Follis makes sure nobody tries to rip anybody’s heads off and suffer the fate of those Barbie dolls. Which apparently never concerned Tate’s mother.
“She definiteley wasn’t horrified,” Tate said. “She wasn’t like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it again.’ But she was totally down. She was like, ‘OK, we’re playing until the Barbies’ heads pop off.’ ”