Tate faced Avila on a two-fight skid, giving her a losing record of 1-2 since emerging from a five-year retirement in 2021. She knew there would be more pressure to retire if she didn’t turn things around.
“I think because I’ve been doing this for so long, and a lot of people were pushing,” she said on The MMA Hour. “I just heard a lot of noise, and people thinking, ‘She’s done. She’s washed up. She should retire.’ And I really felt that, and in a way, that made me feel like I have so much to prove, much like a title fight.
“I have so much more that I know that I’m capable of. Some day when I retire, I know I’ll retire with a happy heart, and I’ll be happy and content with whatever it is that I accomplish from this point on. But in truth, I knew that I had more to give, and I was better than what I had shown, and so I needed to do that for myself.
“I could not quit on myself when I knew there was still more to give, and I was capable of so much more. And so I think I finally figured out the right array for the puzzle pieces to come together, and it’s not just having the puzzle pieces – you’ve got to put them together to where it makes a full picture.”
Tate dominated Avila over two rounds before securing a third-round submission to break her losing skid. She also earned a $50,000 “Performance of the Night” bonus, her fifth in the UFC.
Looking back on how she made that happen, Tate credits her fiancee, Johnny Nunez, and the wrestling coach he brought into the fold, Kirk White. Instead of teaching her new moves, she said he improved on the ones she already knew.
“Before, I think I’ve had bits and pieces, and I’ve put some things together, but this one felt like I finally got what I needed out of the coaching,” she said. “I lost Robert Follis, may he rest in peace, because I miss him a lot. But since then, I haven’t found somebody that worked in the way that Kirk does, and I’ve worked with a lot of great coaches, but Kirk, he’s just different, and he doesn’t train fighters.”
For the majority of her UFC career, Tate was coached by her then-partner, UFC bantamweight vet Bryan Caraway. The pressure of maintaining her relationship and performing at her best led to a breakdown by the time she fought Raquel Pennington at UFC 205, and she quit inside the octagon as she lost a unanimous decision.
“I’ve always been going a million miles an hour all the time, burning the candle at both ends, and this is probably the reason I retired back in the day, just because I was burned out,” she said.
After separating with Caraway and retiring from MMA, Tate redefined her relationship to the sport. When she returned, she’d built a new team anchored by Nunez. She hired a mental coach to help her deal with the pressures of high-level competition, and it paid huge dividends with a comeback win over Marion Reneau in 2021.
Earlier in her career, Tate fought with a stubbornness that won over fans but often ended in losses. Heading into the fight with Avila, she worked on going with the flow, whatever happened, and leaning on what got her to the big show in the first place: her grappling.
Before they all walked to the octagon at UFC Austin, Tate told her team not to overwhelm her with orders. She wanted them to trust what she was doing and what they’d drilled countless times leading up to the fight.
White hadn’t coached many UFC fighters before, and he forgot the stool after one of the rounds, Tate said with a laugh. But he also did something Tate can’t remember any other coach doing, and that was leading her with questions that brought her to the right advice.
“I’ve always fought with a big heart and toughness, and I think people have valued that in my career,” Tate said. “But this fight, I kept telling myself,’ I want to fight with my skillset.’ I don’t ever feel like any fight I’ve ever lived up to what I did in training when all the pressure is off. It’s like, man, I know that I’m really good, but I always feel like I’ve consistently under-performed in my fights, even the fights that I won. I know I can do better than that.”
Tate isn’t sure how long she’ll fight in this second season of her career. Instead of trying to do it all, she’s staying in the moment, focusing on one thing at a time. At 2-2 since her comeback, she’ll need several more wins to get close to the title she famously won by choking out Holm in the fifth round of their UFC 196 meeting. But whatever happens, she knows she’s doing things the way that works for her, and that’s just as valuable as UFC gold.