Ben Fowlkes
Thursday May 14th, 2009

Here's how close Miesha Tate came to completely missing out on a career as a professional female fighter: It was down to wrestling or basketball. A high-school freshman in Tacoma, Wash., she and her best friend had always played sports together. But in the winter season, their school only offered basketball or boys' wrestling. Tate couldn't play basketball and her best friend was barely 5-feet tall. It wasn't a difficult decision, the way Tate remembers it now.

"Neither of us even liked basketball," Tate said. "So [my friend] said, 'You want to go out for wrestling?' And I just thought, 'Sure, why not?' So we did the very next day. She wrestled for three of the four years, and I wrestled for all four of those years."

As is often the case for male fighters, wrestling lead to a general interest in mixed martial arts, leading many to join an MMA club after high school. For Tate, the story wasn't any different: the next thing she knew, she was a passionate MMA fighter turning pro in an often-tumultuous women's circuit that included mostly small, regional promotions.

In November 2007, she got her first pro victory and first defeat all in one night during a Bodog Fight tournament in Indiana. Though finding fights was a problem -- a familiar problem for female fighters -- Tate was able to make the best of it, securing two wins in 2008 (including a unanimous-decision over Elaina Maxwell at Strikeforce: Melendez vs. Thompson) and three in '09.

When Strikeforce offered her a chance to fight on the ShoMMA Challengers Series, debuting on Showtime on Friday, the 22-year-old Tate she thought she was on the brink of making it big. But her opponent, Kim Couture, pulled out for "personal reasons" and, in her frustration, Tate did something she would later regret. She posted a message on her MySpace page declaring that Couture's personal reason was her marriage to former UFC heavyweight champion Randy Couture, which, as Tate claimed, was headed for divorce.

Without really thinking it through, Tate had aired the Coutures' dirty laundry for all to see.

"I realized afterwards, when it was a little too late, that it wasn't really my place to say and I wasn't thinking about that at the time," said Tate. "I've already said my apologies. I wasn't thinking about how that might affect her and Randy and it wasn't my intention to get involved in that. I was just upset about her backing out of the fight and I wasn't even thinking about the divorce being such a big issue."

Fortunately, Strikeforce found her a new opponent, even on short notice, when unbeaten Sarah Kaufman leapt at the chance to fill in for Couture. Tate (6-1) suddenly went from facing an opponent with a 1-1 record, to facing an experienced 8-0 knockout artist.

"It was kind of strange at first, the idea of going from Kim Couture to Sarah Kaufman," Tate said. "Obviously it's quite a jump. I think I have a lot more to gain from this fight. She's a very tough and worthy opponent. I have the opportunity to beat someone who has an established, undefeated record."

But Kaufman's eagerness to take the fight on short notice? Either she's a hungry fighter looking for competition, or else she thought she smelled an easy victory and a chance to get on TV. And Tate isn't entirely sure which.

"I was kind of surprised," she said. "I wouldn't say I was insulted necessarily. But I felt underestimated when I heard (Kaufman volunteer). She was really quick to say, 'Hey, I'll take that fight.' Like she was really sure she was going to win."

But worries over who might be taking her lightly are ancillary for a young fighter trying to make it in women's MMA. It's a sport where good looks or a famous last name can often overshadow true talent, so Tate is just grateful to still have a chance to fight. And she plans turn some heads along the way.

"[Kaufman's] fought my style of fighter before, but she hasn't fought me," said Tate. "I think she's in for a surprise."

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