You often discover whether you possess fight or flight instincts when the going gets tough. Is it our instinct to escape the situation and run to the nearest safe haven, or do we decide to stand and fight, despite obvious risk, pain and embarrassment? Sometimes we wait our whole life to find out the answer to this kind of question, yet, luckily for me, my moment of realization arrived in my very first mixed martial arts amateur bout in 2006.
I was 19 years of age at the time, had wrestled for four years, but had no clue what MMA was and had never before heard of the UFC. In fact, I had no desire to ever fight at this stage. I was just interested in learning a bit more about submission wrestling, having wrestled with the boys’ team since during high school.
As I became more and more interested in the sport of mixed martial arts, though, I started to contemplate the idea of actually competing and using my wrestling skills as a solid foundation in the sport. One day I decided to attend my first mixed martial arts fight and, though it was only an amateur event, it appealed to me and was something I wanted to see more of in the future. Then, as the event ended, the announcer grabbed the mic and revealed to the crowd that he would be hosting an all-female fight card in three weeks and that all fighters were welcome to try out and compete.
So, with only my wrestling background and just three weeks of striking training, I decided to give it a go and compete at that event. I went up against a dangerous Muay-thai kickboxer that night and, knowing how little striking experience I had, naturally realized I would be up against it. She and her husband owned their own Muay-thai gym and, of course, she was very well-drilled on her feet and had been doing it since she was a young girl.
I won the first round thanks entirely to my wrestling skills. I was able to go out there, take her down very quickly and then keep her there for the majority of the round. I used a little bit of ground-and-pound once I had secured the takedowns, but, for the most part, was just looking to control and outmaneuver her. When I went back to the corner, I was told by my trainer that I needed to punch more when we were on the ground and that I should look to score more damage when in advantageous positions.
The idea of doing physical damage to my opponent was something completely new to me at this stage, though, as I was still very much in pure wrestling mode.
I went out for the second round and remember throwing a flurry of one-twos, which backed my opponent up to the corner. It was then that she put me into a Thai clinch and started going to work. I had no idea what this thing was that she had me caught in and had no clue how to defend or escape it. So, while I tried desperately to take her down, she was happily kneeing me in the face over and over again. One of the knees then shattered my nose, breaking it immediately.
Nevertheless, I kept trying for that double-leg and eventually got it. By this time, though, I was very dazed and didn’t really know what was going on. This allowed her to capitalize and get her hooks in when we did finally hit the ground. I was now curled up in a ball, wary of being hit and choked out. I basically had nowhere to escape. She then postured up and began raining down punches on my ears, just for good measure.
This was a very pivotal moment for me in my career, because after taking severe punishment like that for the first time in my life, I reached an unexpected moment of clarity. I watched the blood pour from my nose and accumulate in a red pool beneath my face, and yet wasn’t at all intimidated or scared by what was about to come. It was a strangely serene moment, one that highlighted just why I was there and what I needed to do to get myself out of this situation.
I thought to myself, ‘Well, this is the route you chose, Tate – now you’ve got to get your ass off the floor and deal with it’. I finally realized what I was there to do, and accepted the harsh truth – this wasn’t a wrestling match… it was a fight!
Without a second thought, I tried everything in my power to get out of a potential submission and start kicking her ass again. I bucked her off like crazy, she slipped into the guard position and that allowed me to get up on my tip toes and wail away with punches as hard as I possibly could. Blood was going everywhere. It was all over my face and her gloves. I didn’t care anymore.
Now fully amped and excited, I walked back to my corner at the end of the round with a spring in my step, eager for the next round to hurry up. I now understood what I was there to do and realized what being a fighter was all about. I wanted more of it. Unfortunately, it was at this very moment that my trainers looked at me with disgust, in a way that suggested my nose and face were beyond repair and that I had no chance whatsoever of going another round.
They made an executive decision and pulled me out of the fight, something which obviously bummed me out a little bit, but, in hindsight was the right decision. After all, I wasn’t getting paid for the fight and all medical expenses were on my head.
Still, I quickly knew after that fight – after the blood had dried and my nose returned to its normal place – that MMA was the sport for me. I was pushed beyond my limits, physically and emotionally, and yet was still craving more at the end of it all.
I was all fight, not flight.
My March 3 challenger and opponent, Ronda Rousey, has never faced this type of make or break moment during her 4-0 mixed martial arts career. Yes, she was very accomplished as a judo player, winning a bronze medal at the 2008 Olympics, but she has yet to taste her own blood in a grueling MMA bout. She’s yet to prove she can battle back from any adversity at all. Questions have never been asked of her.
All four of her MMA wins so far have arrived inside the first minute, and she has yet to face anybody that has so much as tested her, let alone come close to disfiguring her face and beating her. She’s been carefully matched, she’s been pampered and she’s been protected. The truth is, going into this world title fight with me, Ronda is still to discover whether she is even a real fighter.
However, on March 3rd, the night we meet for my Strikeforce world bantamweight champion, Ronda Rousey will learn just how hard and horrible the sport of mixed martial arts can be. I will take great pleasure in dragging her into deep waters for the first time in her life and then drowning her there.