Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Ronda Rousey flew 6,500 miles away from Las Vegas after concluding her coaching duties on the most recent season of “The Ultimate Fighter.” Opponent Miesha Tate drove down the street.
The contrasts of their experiences on the UFC’s long-running reality show were drastic. Rousey (7-0 MMA, 1-0 UFC) couldn’t wait to retreat, finding solace in Bulgaria, where she trained for UFC 168 while shooting “The Expendables 3.”
Tate (13-4 MMA, 0-1 UFC) decided staying put gave her the best chance to defeat Rousey for the women’s bantamweight championship Saturday at MGM Grand Garden Arena.
“What really made the decision for me was the coaches down here are just exceptional,” Tate said.
Tate, a 27-year-old from Tacoma, Wash., could become an unlikely source to bring the Fight Capital of the World its first UFC title in five years. Like prominent locally based mixed martial artists before her, Tate is utilizing the vast network of fight resources available in the valley.
She’s spent at least some time at all the best gyms — the classic haven at Xtreme Couture, the newfangled digs at Syndicate MMA and the cloistered confines at the UFC’s private Red Rock facility.
She’s worked with grappling guru Ricky Lundell on her ground game, striking master Jimmy Gifford on her stand-up and strategist extraordinaire Robert Follis on everything in between.
“It’s so important for me to win this fight, and it feels just as important to them,” Tate said. “That’s awesome because, with coaches before, I’ve had the feeling they didn’t care as much as I did, and that sucks.”
Tate keeps in constant contact with her team throughout the day. When she’s out of the gym, her coaches blow up her phone with texts and calls to check up on how she’s feeling.
The little things make a major difference, Tate said, but they also haven’t slacked on a macro-level. To tailor her judo — Rousey won a bronze medal in the discipline at the 2008 Olympics — Team Tate brought in a handful of experts of the sport.
They assisted in a way she felt was missing the first time against Rousey, who won via first-round submission in March 2012 to strip Tate of her title. Tate’s training this time de-emphasized focus on the armbar, the move Rousey has finished with in all seven of her fights.
“It’s something I have to be aware of, but if I get in the armbar, the odds are going to be in her favor,” Tate said. “I need to work on things to prevent it from getting there. I can’t be like, ‘OK, start an armbar, work on your escapes.’ I’m not planning to be in an armbar this fight.”
Tate extracted confidence from working her way out of one armbar in the first fight. Looking back, she thinks the only reason she got caught with an attempt at the end of the first round was overzealousness.
She got emotional and lunged forward at Rousey without any restraint. Gifford has helped correct the mechanical flaws for the rematch.
And Tate raves about having her mindset under control for the second time she faces her archrival.
“She had mental warfare in her arsenal the first time we fought, and I didn’t,” Tate said of Rousey. “It wasn’t a weapon on my toolbelt.
“She was turning the sport into something I didn’t love anymore. She was making it horrible. I didn’t like it, so I had to change my frame of mind.”
Rousey on Jim Rome
Rousey, who’s spewing just as much venom about Tate before the second fight highlighted by a recent stop on Jim Rome’s nationally syndicated radio show, takes offense to the notion that she’s the antagonist. Rousey adamantly argued Tate had become the instigator before the second fight with nefarious actions throughout the time they filmed "TUF."
“If you notice, I’ve never had a problem with any other opponent that I’ve had,” Rousey said. “Think about it. Everyone thinks about me being this big trash talker, but who have I had a problem with that I fought except Miesha?”
As convinced as Tate is about the success of her training, Rousey is just as positive about her preparation. She was back home in Los Angeles in time for her standard six-week camp but said the stint in Bulgaria — and the filming of “Fast & Furious 7” afterwards — helped clear her head.
“I think that everything happened at the exact perfect time,” Rousey said. “And I think it was good for me to get away and change the environment I was in for a little bit.”
Rousey accused Tate of bouncing around cities because she wears out her welcome with fight teams. But Tate feels she’s found a home in Las Vegas.
Part of the choice about whether she relocates to train locally full time is up to longtime boyfriend Bryan Caraway, a UFC bantamweight with his own career to consider. Tate hopes, and thinks, Caraway will find Las Vegas as beneficial as she does.
“It feels like I finally have the perfect mixture and a whole solid team of coaches,” Tate said.