Some mixed martial arts fighters enter the octagon for pride. For that hefty, glided title belt. Others do it for the money. But Miesha Tate — former Ultimate Fighting Championship Women’s Bantamweight Champion and current Vice President of ONE Championship — fought for none of those things. She says she did it for equality.
“When I first started competing, nobody took women fighters seriously,” says the 33-year-old Evolve MMA instructor. “The opportunities and pay were minimal. We really had to fight for every inch of respect.”
Tate made her professional debut in MMA back in 2007 at the now-defunct HOOKnSHOOT Women’s Grand Prix; two years later, she would go on to win her first MMA title at the FCF Women’s Bantamweight Championship. In those years, says Tate, making a living was tough. She lived out of an RV parked next to a gym and everything she made from fights went to her necessities.
But her fights in the next few years — especially her much-publicised rivalry with Ronda Rousey — would be the driving force that catapulted Women’s MMA into the spotlight. 2012’s Strikeforce: Tate vs. Rousey was one of the rare times a women’s fight headlined an MMA show; the previous one had been three years prior.
As a competitor, Tate was renowned for her spiritedness in the octagon. She retired several months after winning the UFC Women’s Bantamweight Championship in 2016, but when she did, the tributes came pouring in. Pundits lauded her for her ‘heart in the heat of battle’, saying that it was unmatched amongst fighters of both genders; Rousey even described Tate as ’an amazing fighter’.
That heart of hers didn’t just make for some great fights — it also proved that women could throw down just as fiercely as the boys could.
It’s something that Tate says she had in her since she was a scrappy kid. At 15, she muscled her way onto her high school’s all-boys wrestling team. They were tough on her in every training session and tried to make her quit, only to have the reverse happen: Tate stayed on, and when she did, she thrived. She would go on to win a state wrestling championship in her senior year of high school.
So it may come as a surprise that she still bears her longtime fighting moniker, Cupcake. To Tate, it’s something of a badge of pride, even knowing its sexist connotations: “People would assume I couldn’t fight, or I’d be an easy fight to take,” she says, wryly. “But that’s when the name ‘Cupcake’ became a motivational one. For me to prove everyone wrong.”
Tate is very much a woman comfortable in her own skin. Sure, she could grapple an Olympic wrestling medalist and dominate anyone once she took them down, but she also very much enjoys being a mom (aside from 9-month-old daughter Amaia, Tate is also expecting a baby boy come this June), and she unabashedly loves baking — hence, the nickname.
Today, Tate is an instructor at Evolve MMA, and Vice President of ONE Championship. She’s an outspoken advocate of gender rights and a supporter of the #MeToo movement. “I know that if I were in a victim’s shoes, I would appreciate the effort of a community rallying around me,” she says.
She might be out of the octagon, but it’s clear she’s never lost her fighting spirit — she’s only channeled it elsewhere. Family comes first for Tate, and her Instagram — part #fitspo goals and enviable gym pics, and part proud mama feed — shows just that. (She even fought off an Italian Mastiff that attacked her dog when she was 7-months pregnant with her daughter).
“Life changes after you have kids,” she muses. “Now that I have a daughter, and a son on the way, there’s nothing more important to me than my family.”
This story is part of A Magazine’s feature on women of note for International Women’s Day.