UFC star Tate prepared to take fight to Nakai

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Staff Writer

Miesha Tate wants Rin Nakai to remember her after their fight next month. Nakai, who is undefeated (16-0-1), likely already knows all about Tate, a superstar in women’s mixed martial arts, but Tate wants a special place in Nakai’s world.

“She’s undefeated, so it’s always exciting for me to try to put the first loss on someone’s record,” Tate told The Japan Times on Tuesday. “To be that only one, when she has to read her record from now on that says 16-1. It’s like ‘whoa, she only lost to who, one person, oh, Miesha!’ That would be great.”

Tate was in Japan earlier this week to take part in a promotional event ahead of her fight against Nakai, which will be a part of UFC Fight Night Japan on Sept. 20 at Saitama Super Arena.

Next month’s card, headlined by the heavyweight clash between Roy Hunt and Mark Nelson, features fighters such as Takanori Gomi and Yoshihiro “Sexyama” Akiyama, but the bout between Tate and Nakai is one of the standout matches.

Tate is among the most popular figures in MMA, male or female. She and Cat Zingano were the first women to win a UFC Fight of the Night Award, for their bout on April 13, 2013, awarded to the most impressive fight on a card, and Tate is the only woman to have won twice. Her heated rivalry with Ronda Rousey has raised her profile even more, and also brought more attention to women’s MMA.

Nakai built her record in other promotions and will be making her UFC debut against Tate. The company could use a Japanese star as it tries to make inroads in the country, and Nakai has a chance to make a major impact in many ways, prompting UFC president Dana White to call her one of Japan’s most important fighters when the bout was announced in June.

“I think that for Rin, if she was to beat me, which she won’t, but if she was, it could get her an immediate title shot,” Tate said. “Because I’m really the only one that’s been able to give Ronda Rousey a fight,” Tate said.

“For me, I don’t think it’s as big of a win. Even though she’s 16-0, which is great, it’s safe to say she hasn’t fought the best girls, because she hasn’t fought anyone in UFC. Not discrediting her at all, 16-0 is a very impressive record. But for me, it’s a step in the right direction to beat someone with a record like hers.”

Tate seems confident she’ll take that step next month.

“I feel like I have a more well-rounded skill set than she does,” Tate said. “I definitely believe I’m much better on the feet. I think her striking is very underdeveloped, however I know her judo and wrestling are good, and her ground game is OK. It’s pretty good, but I think I have a wider skill set on the ground.”

Tate said that other than a few necessary distractions needed for promotion, her training has gone well. She’s also pleased to have fewer things to worry about since signing with KHI Management, an athlete-representation company started by NASCAR driver Kevin Harvick. The company has already helped secure all her sponsors for the fight, a promptness she says is rare in MMA.

“It’s nice to have a management company that’s used to working in NASCAR and other organizations that do things ahead of time,” she said.

Next month’s bout marks the first time UFC has staged a female fight in Asia. For Tate, its just another step in a career that in many ways has risen alongside the sport itself.

“Well before UFC was even a thought in anyone’s mind that women could ever be in there, I was fighting for free, for only the love of the sport,” she said. “I’ve gone from that very bottom level to the biggest, highest level. So I really feel like I’ve gotten to experience so much.

“This is one more milestone. To come over and fight in another country, to fight an undefeated fighter, and for this to be the biggest women’s fight in history in Japan, this is definitely going to be a milestone for me.”

It’ll be a milestone worth remembering if Tate has her way.

“Maybe a first or a second-round TKO,” she said when asked to describe her perfect finish. “I think that finishing her on the ground, where she is known for being strong, and finishing her with punches in the way that she doesn’t like . . . she doesn’t like to get hit, it’s clear. Nobody likes to get hit, but some people can deal with it and fight through it, and some people don’t deal with it well.

“I think that would be good. I always like a first-round finish, but I really want to put on a great fight for the fans, so I would be happy with a second-round finish. A dominant first round and finishing in the second so that the fans can really enjoy the fight.”