The Strikeforce women’s 135 pound division has a new champion and the female side of the sport has a new face of the franchise.
Miesha Tate lived up to her nickname, using an early fourth round takedown to control Marloes Coenen on the mat. Then the former high school wrestler beat the champion at her own game, becoming the first person to submit Coenen and winning the women’s bantamweight championship in the process.
After a back-and-forth fight that could have been 2-1 for either fighter through the first three rounds, Tate secured side control on Coenen, then floated across her body, cinching in the fight-ending arm triangle choke. Coenen tried to defend, but was forced to tap, giving Tate the victory and the title.
Many believed this fight would help determine the future of women’s MMA under the Zuffa banner, and the highly entertaining contest proved that the elite female fighters are more than capable of sharing the big stage with their male counterparts.
This fight was as action-packed as the three before it, if not more, with Coenen threatening with a choke in the first and dominating from Tate’s back throughout the second round. To her credit, Tate persevered through both and edged out the third on the strength of a pair of takedowns. Though Coenen looked like the fresher of the two when the fourth round commenced, Tate proved otherwise, earning the surprising finish to the captivating championship contest.
There were a lot of questions swirling around the new champion heading into this fight and she answered them all emphatically. Her time away from the cage didn’t prove to be a hindrance, and neither did the knee injury that forced her from this match-up back in March.
In addition to showing they can deliver excitement inside the cage, Tate’s victory now gives women’s MMA a highly marketable star to help carry the brand outside the cage as well.
The photogenic and camera-ready Tate is the right blend of skills and sex appeal to connect with male mixed martial arts fans. The crowd at the Sears Center in suburban Chicago was clearly in her corner on Saturday night with chants of “Miesha” ringing through the arena. One of the more recognizable and popular females in the sport already, this victory will surely push Tate’s profile to new levels, which is exactly what women’s MMA needs at this point.
Though their performance is what matters most, sports are driven by stars. MMA is no different. While captivating fights catch the audiences attention, it’s the recognizable faces who make a lasting impression. Despite some strong performers inside the cage, women’s MMA has been lacking an athlete with crossover appeal since the departure of Gina Carano two years ago. With this victory, Tate should now fill the void left by the budding film star and former American Gladiator as the female face of MMA.
To maintain that position, however, she’ll need to continue her run of success. This victory pushes her winning streak to five and sets up a potential rematch with former champion Sarah Kaufman. Kaufman earned a unanimous decision victory over Tate in May 2009, and made it clear following her win over Liz Carmouche last week that she’s hungry to get a chance to reclaim her belt.
While Tate will have to turn her focus to Kaufman in the future, for now she can savor her outstanding performance and the newest addition to her jewelry collection — the Strikeforce Women’s bantamweight title.