The Ultimate Fighting Championship returns to “The Windy City” for UFC on FOX 16. For the third consecutive year, the United Center in Chicago, Illinois plays host to a UFC on FOX card, and this is one of the better offerings the UFC has put on big Fox card in quite some time.
A rematch between T.J. Dillashaw and Renan Barão for the UFC bantamweight championship headlines the night’s proceedings, but the co-main event features their female counterparts going to battle in a significant fight in the women’s 135 pound division.
Perennial top contender Miesha “Cupcake” Tate, will meet rising top 10 challenger Jessica “Evil” Eye, in a three round affair to determine the next challenger to Ronda Rousey’s title.
Miesha Tate is in a familiar spot coming into Saturday’s bout. It’s not the first time she’s been in a high profile fight with huge stakes on the line. Her UFC debut was to the previously unbeaten Cat Zingano and was also a number one contender’s fight, she fought hard, but ultimately came up short as she fell to a brutal Muay Thai onslaught of knees and elbows by Zingano. Ever since that loss in April of 2013, Tate has reversed her fortunes.
After an unexpected and gifted title shot against Ronda Rousey at the end of 2013 didn’t end with her hand raised, 2014 saw her shift the tide. First with a spirited split decision over former title challenger Liz Carmouche, then a more clear cut decision over Japanese newcomer Rin Nakai. Tate’s last fight against Olympic silver medalist Sara McMann was a real testament to her skill and will. After getting dropped by two massive right hands by McMann early in the first round, Tate turned the tables on her and began to take charge with her grappling in the last two rounds. Nearly securing a guillotine in the waning seconds of the second round, and gaining top position and punishing McMann with some solid ground and pound in the third.
Jessica Eye has had a strange run in the UFC thus far, to say the least. Eye’s promotional debut was against Sarah Kaufman at UFC 166. The fight was very competitive and each girl had their moments over the 15 minute contest, Eye managed to push the pace and get the better of most exchanges to win a tight split decision, unfortunately an infinitesimal amount of marijuana metabolites were found in her post-fight drug test and her win was overturned to a no contest.
Her sophomore effort was against veteran and grappling specialist, Alexis Davis. The fight was pretty even on the feet, but a few takedowns by Davis in the first two rounds got her the split decision, but It was Eye’s last fight that caught the eye, or maybe more appropriately, ear of fight fans.
Eye fought Leslie Smith in the UFC’s debut in Mexico and she put on the showcase performance of her career. Eye beat Smith to the punch in virtually every exchange and nearly severed Smith’s ear in the process. Eye showed real maturity and vast improvements that night at UFC 180, but now those skills will be put to the test against one of the most tough and accomplished veteran’s in women’s mixed martial arts.
Miesha Tate was once nicknamed “Takedown,” not the most creative or intimidating nickname ever concocted, but it was appropriate. In the first half of her career, Tate used the amateur wrestling she learned with the other boys in high school almost exclusively when she first stepped into the cage. The now nicknamed “Cupcake” has come a long way since her grappling-centric early days. Although her striking has come a improved since her “Takedown” days, Tate hasn’t forgotten her base. She can use her strikes to get her takedowns, and at her best, is a whirlwind of wild punching combinations, forceful takedowns and strong ground & pound.
Tate’s submission abilities are also the most potent part of her game. Maybe because Tate has had a tendency to get in brawls in her career, people seem to forget that she has some of the best submissions at women’s bantamweight, after all, this is a woman who was able to tap renowned grappler Marloes Coenen to win the Strikeforce title. Tate has strange, almost Jessica Penne-like, flexibility as well, she is regularly able to get inverted triangles from bottom position due to her exceptional flexibility.
Jessica Eye is no rookie in the fight game, she’s been fighting professionally for quite some time, but she’s never won a major promotional title. Miesha Tate has been involved in one night tournaments, she held the Strikeforce bantamweight title at one point, has fought Ronda Rousey for the UFC title, and gave her the only competitive fight of her career. This is Tate’s second co-main event spot on Fox, so this is no new territory for her.
Tate and Eye are both agressive fighters who don’t mind trading. As far as tenure goes, Tate and Eye are almost identical, but Tate still has an experience advantage over her because she’s used to the bright lights and the attention. Eye doesn’t seem like the type that the spotlight would bother her, but one can never say until the cameras start rolling. Aside from big name fights, Tate is notorious for her comebacks. It’s nearly impossible to take a round off or coast against Tate, she’s dangerous in every minute of the fight, and although Eye has had close fights, there are not very many of her being soundly beaten then coming back and winning the fight. Though it’s not wise to fights in wars the way Tate has, the ability to fight in smothering conditions of despair and attrition, then overcoming can be invaluable.
Jessica Eye is one of the most prolific strikers in the UFC’s bantamweight division. Eye has an amateur boxing background and it is evident when she puts hands on girls. The most evident advantage Eye has over most women in the division is speed, and combined with her pace she makes it incredibly tough for other women to deal with her on the feet.
5.25, that is the average number of significant strikes per minute Eye lands according to ufc.com, which is quite staggering. Eye is a magnificent boxer-puncher, the best and one of the very few boxer-punchers in the division. One of the only women in the division to have a firm understanding of interweaving offense and defense, Eye has an uncanny ability to throw flowing punch combinations and use good head movement and footwork as she throws her strikes. Eye also has some very good kicks to the legs and body, and when she can find her openings and rhythm, she throws punishing kicks as an exclamation point to her punching combinations.
If Tate can’t find a way to get this fight to the ground, the chances of her winning the fight are dismal. Tate has good power, but she charges in head first a lot of times when she’s trying to throw and has a really bad habit of keeping her left hand low. Eye looked better than she’s ever looked against Smith, and you can rest assured that she has been focusing on improving those skills since her last fight.
Rather strange to see a woman who’s not a wrestler or even a Muay Thai specialist have an advantage in the clinch department, but Jessica Eye easily has the most underrated clinch in the bantamweight division, in fact, it may only be second next to the champion’s clinching abilities. Eye has one of the most active clinches in the UFC. Whether she’s instigating or defending, Eye throws a high volume of punches and elbows inside. The unique aspect of her clinch game is that she knows how to generate a good amount of power in close quarters, Eye gets some real torque behind her shots and is also delusively strong. Eye is almost always the one causing damage upon exiting a clinch, and she’s very rarely muscled and bullied inside.
Tate has a strong clinch game as well, and even though she has an advantage over Eye in the grappling department, Tate has been known to stay somewhat complacent in the clinch or against the cage and that cannot be the case against Eye. The clinch battle must be ugly and attritive if Tate is to be competitive at close range.
This is the most closely matched fight the UFC can book in the female bantamweight division right now. Both women have very obvious strong points that can neutralize each other’s strength and are two of the only contenders left for Rousey. The striker versus grappler narrative rear it’s head once again, even though both Eye and Tate have ancillary tools beyond their respective strengths, this is the clear cut formula for both girls to come out on top.
For all of Jessica Eye’s striking prowess and physical gifts, she’s still very hittable. Her head movement is great and fighting in the pocket is her specialty, but she has a very obvious habit of backing up with her chin exposed as she steps back and also tends to throw kicks without moving her head off the center line. Tate is not on Eye’s striking level, but she does seem to thrive in ugly battles and that is something we have yet to see out of Eye.
Unless Tate cannot find a way to get Eye’s respect and back her up or is shooting from very long distances to allow Eye to use her solid defensive wrestling against her, this should be her fight to lose. Eye isn’t particularly great off her back foot and when strikes are properly utilized to camouflage a takedown, she tends to taken to the mat. This is another opportunity for Tate to shine in a high profile fight on network television, she did it once and she should do it again, albeit not by any easy means. Eye is very tough and will be a rough matchup, but Tate should be able to do enough to win a close, back-and-forth battle.
– MIESHA TATE BY SPLIT DECISION.