Former UFC Bantamweight Miesha Tate sat down with GQ’s Mick Rouse earlier this year and gave an interview titled ‘UFC Champion Miesha Tate on the Hardest Part of Being a Professional Fighter.’
Tate was the recently crowned UFC Bantamweight champion at the time and the new face of women’s MMA in the absence of Ronda Rousey.
She had fought for the title before and lost to the aforementioned Rousey, and in the aftermath of that fight, she went on a five fight win streak where she claimed the Bantamweight title that had eluded her for so many years.
But what was the hardest part of Tate’s journey to the top of that UFC mountain? Was it the years and years of hard training and sacrifice? Was it overcoming self-doubt after back-to-back losses to Cat Zingano and Ronda Rousey? Was it putting in the right performance when it mattered most? No. It was taking money from her opponents.
“The thing really is taking half of their paycheck and putting a loss on their record,” said Tate.
“That’s an emotional thing and that’s where it gets a little bit hard to want to fight your friend.
“In the gym sparring, it doesn’t matter because at the end of the day no one is keeping track.
“But in front of the whole world, to push it to that extent where you have to take half their paycheck and put a loss on their record, that can be a little hard.”
It can be easy for someone like Tate to say that the hardest thing about being a professional fighter is taking someone else’s pay cheque; but that’s always easier to say when you’re the fighter that’s being paid.
The hardest thing is being the fighter that is actually losing the money. What’s even harder than that is being the fighter that’s chasing the money, the fighter that is not being paid handsomely for the effort that they’re putting in day in and day out.
It seems like a blatantly obvious point to make that not all MMA fighters are rich, but at the same time, I found it really hard to buy into Tate’s philosophy that the hardest part of being a professional fighter was taking money from someone else.
Maybe I doubt Tate’s reasoning because she’s giving her perspective from the very top of women’s MMA, maybe I doubt her because she has an estimated ne worth of $2 million and has appeared on the front cover of several fitness and fighter magazines, or maybe it’s because I’m walking alongside Sinead Kavanagh on her way to training at SBG Concorde.
It’s a bit hard to believe that the hardest part of being a professional fighter is taking someone else’s money, when you’re walking alongside a fighter who tells you that all she wants to do is to make enough from MMA to buy herself a car and a house for her partner and son.
It’s even harder to believe when you have to avoid horseshit on that very walk, and not metaphorical horseshit in the nature of our conversation, literal horseshit that appears on our path.
For many fighters it’s a harsh reality. To get to the top of the mountain you have to put everything you’ve got into your profession and then some, and that’s easy to say to yourself or to print across the bottom of a motivational poster, but it’s all the more real when you’re talking to someone who lives it every day.
A fighter that often trains six days a week, three times a day and has to look after her son whilst strictly watching her weight. And all for what? A few hundred.
Maybe in the short term it’s a lot to ask for, but in the long term they all have ambitions of making it to the UFC. The big time. The world’s largest professional MMA show and the home to some of the best fighters on the planet.
But what happens when you get there? What happens when you’re finally asked to the big dance? When you’ve been given your shot at glory?
Depends largely on what you do.
“Conor [McGregor] said to me ‘you’re just going to be like me, you’re going to go straight to the top,” Kavanagh told Pundit Arena.
McGregor has garnered unprecedented numbers for an MMA fighter. He’s broken pay-per-view and ticket sales records, he became the first fighter in history to receive a $3 million purse for his fight against Nate Diaz at UFC 202, and he’s also redefining what is financially possible for an MMA fighter.
He’s the exception. His former teammate Cathal Pendred is closer to the rule.
Pendred fought six times over a period of 15 months in the UFC, amassing a very respectable record of 4-2 before retiring in November of last year. The Welterweight made appearances on TV3, he fought across the world, but contrary to a belief held by some, Pendred was far from financially flush.
“You see, the problem for a lot of people is, they’ve put everything into getting there and then when they realise that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be, they have nowhere else to go,” Pendred told Peter Carroll in an interview for Newstalk last week.
“Everybody thought I was loaded even before I got to the UFC. Even though I was just making a couple of hundred quid for a fight. Really, the only people who know how bad it is are the people who are in it.
“When I got to the UFC I wouldn’t even let me Dad see my contracts and he is a solicitor. I knew he’d tell me I was signing my life away, but I had put in so many years to get there, I was never going to not sign it. You feel like you have to sign any contract UFC give to you.
“You nearly find yourself supporting the illusion that many people have of you, everyone thinks you’re loaded so you see a lot of fighters acting like they are.
“It’s no secret that before my first UFC fight I was months behind on all of my bills and on my rent. I was training for the biggest fight of my life and I was worried that when I came home from training all of my belongings would be just outside the door or my lights wouldn’t turn on.
“That stuff definitely affects you. I was lucky enough that I didn’t have kids or anything like that, but I can imagine what kind of stress you would be under if you did. There are plenty of guys fighting for the UFC that are in that situation, so, of course, that outside stress is always going to have an impact on how you perform.”
Kavanagh does have a kid, a 12-year-old son named Leon who adores his mother and who has researched the UFC women’s Bantamweight division looking for any flaws and potetnial weaknesses that may exist.
McGregor, Coach Kavanagh and Leon all believe that Sinead is capable of making it to the UFC but what’s the point if she does?
As Pendred alluded to, even if you get there, it’s a harsh reality in terms of what can be made financially, so why do it?
Why put all those hours, years of training and sacrifice into something that only might pay off?
It seems like a risky business decision but fighting is not strictly business. McGregor’s wildly successful rise in the UFC and his Instagram account would have you believe it’s a very profitable business, but the reality is different, very different, and it’s an occupation that is often borne out of necessity as much as it is something that fighters want to do.
“It’s the same for every fighter,” Coach Kavanagh says off the financial reality for most fighters.
“It’s the same if you want to be in a rock band, there’s going to be years of working out in a dingy basement getting nothing in return, with a very small chance of ever getting something in return.
“So the only thing that would make you do that is if you really enjoy it. No one plays guitar in their basement because you’re getting paid an hourly rate.
“You do it because you have to do it. The people who train in here, the people who do well in here, they have no choice. Sinead has no choice to train here. There’s something in her that’s making her do this and that’s natural.
“It has to be natural. I can’t force it, she can’t force it. But she’s not coming here because there’s millions at the end of the rainbow.
“She may never make money at this but what else is she going to do? I don’t see her running around chasing a football. That’s not in her.
“I don’t think people do this recreationally, they do this because there’s something deep inside of them.”
That something deep inside a person is what drew Kavanagh to Kavanagh. It’s something that John recognised in Sinead from their very first interaction. Something a coach sees in a student.
“If you’re around Sinead it’s like being around a big cat,” Coach Kavanagh added.
“There’s an energy there, a potential there, and that’s what I picked up on fast.
“I felt straight away that was something in her, a fighting spirit that was just palpable.
“Sinead is just a fighter. She’s going to be in there until the last seconds and it’s uncommon. It might sounds like ‘well every fighter does that’ but they don’t.
“Some fighters if they’re losing, for the last 30 seconds they’re happy just to coast out and go ‘oh well I guess I lost that, I’ve lost this fight anyway’.
“Maybe they lost 14 minutes of the fight and there’s a minute left so they’ll just hang on and say ‘well I’ll get them the next time’.
“Sinead is going to be for the last five seconds of a fight, a fight that she might have lost 14 minutes and 55 seconds for, she is going to be killing herself trying to win.
“And if you have that attitude, which I didn’t give her, she had that, I believe the rest is quite simple. I believe the rest will fall into place.”
That fighting spirit is what keeps Sinead going. It’s what brought her to SBG in the first place.
It’s why she trains six days a week. It’s why she came to MMA when she could have just walked away from boxing and fighting completely.
She fights because she has to fight, and while the hardest thing for Miesha Tate to do is to take money away from her opponents, the hardest thing for Sinead Kavanagh to do is to get to the place she wants to go to, the place that her son, her coach and her most famous teammate all believe she can get to.
But for them it’s a matter of when rather than if. A ‘have to’ instead of a ‘want to’. A fighter’s fight.
By Jack O’Toole, Pundit Arena