UFC president Dana White is fond of saying there are no tune-up fights in the UFC — and for the most part, he’s right. There really aren’t many. But Miesha Tate did get one this year.
Tate (19-7) returned from a nearly five-year layoff in July and picked up a dominant TKO win over Marion Reneau at UFC Fight Night. No disrespect to Reneau whatsoever. She enjoyed a six-year career in the UFC, which is not easy. But that July bout was her retirement fight and her fifth loss in a row. And her style was tailor made for Tate.
All of that is to say that Tate’s comeback truly begins, in earnest, on Saturday, when she meets Ketlen Vieira (11-2) in the main event of UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas. Tate deserves credit for looking comfortable, aggressive and in peak physical condition in July following such a long layoff, but for this comeback to be real, Saturday is the true litmus test.
Vieira, 30, has flirted with title contention but hasn’t quite cemented her place in the conversation. She is 5-2 in the UFC and ranked No. 7 overall by the promotion.
She’s been a betting favorite in her four most recent fights, including this one. That places Tate in the role of underdog, a rarity for her. The last time it happened was in March 2016, when she upset Holly Holm to win the UFC bantamweight championship. Since then, she’s been favored in three consecutive bouts, including against Amanda Nunes back at UFC 200.
Tate, who retired in 2016 to pursue other interests and start a family, has made it clear her goal is to reclaim her UFC title. She told ESPN this week that if she gets past Vieira she intends to take a shot at Nunes. Even if Tate were to fall short in a rematch against Nunes, simply getting there would be producing one of the bigger fights in women’s MMA.
In order to get there, however, Tate has to prove she’s still who she was five years ago, when she was competing at the highest level. Her comeback fight in July, as impressive as it was, didn’t offer proof of that. This one on Saturday, though, certainly could.
Watch UFC Fight Night: Vieira vs. Tate on Saturday on ESPN+, beginning at 3 p.m. ET.
Numbers matchup: 2-0 vs. 1-1
Vieira and Tate have faced two common opponents. Here’s how they did:
Sara McMann: Vieira submitted her in 2017; Tate defeated her by majority decision in 2015.
Cat Zingano: Vieira beat her by split decision in 2018; she knocked out Tate in 2013.
And the winner is …
“Vieira may be the younger, less decorated fighter, but her power is outstanding,” said Ashlee Evans-Smith, who lost a decision to Vieira in 2017. “She holds a black belt in judo and a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Like Tate, Vieira also looks to grapple. These two high-level grapplers will neutralize each other, in my opinion. If Vieira uses her longer reach intelligently and utilizes crafty striking, her power will be too much for ‘Cupcake.'”
Check out how Evans-Smith and other experts break down the main event and predict a winner.
How to watch the fights on ESPN+
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Saturday’s fight card
ESPN+, 6 p.m. ET
Women’s bantamweight: Ketlen Vieira vs. Miesha Tate
Welterweight: Michael Chiesa vs. Sean Brady
Men’s bantamweight: Rani Yahya vs. Kyung Ho Kang
Women’s flyweight: Joanne Wood vs. Taila Santos
Men’s bantamweight: Davey Grant vs. Adrian Yanez
ESPN+, 3 p.m. ET
Men’s featherweight: Tucker Lutz vs. Pat Sabatini
Lightweight: Rafa Garcia vs. Natan Levy
Strawweight: Loma Lookboonmee vs. Loopy Godinez
Lightweight: Fares Ziam vs. Terrance McKinney
Men’s flyweight: Cody Durden vs. Aori Qileng
Men’s featherweight: Sean Soriano vs. Shayilan Nuerdanbieke
Strawweight: Luana Pinheiro vs. Sam Hughes
Ian Parker’s best bets
Michael Chiesa vs. Sean Brady: Coming off his first loss since moving up to the welterweight division, Chiesa will be looking to get back on track against a highly touted prospect. For Chiesa to get the win, he will have to keep this fight in two positions: against the cage and on top of Brady on the canvas. Chiesa will have an advantage if the fight turns into an ugly clinch game. And if Chiesa can take the fight to the canvas and gain top position, I would expect him to be very conservative to avoid making a mistake and getting submitted. Both of these fighters went either to a decision or at least over 2.5 rounds in three of their last four fights. Pick: Over 2.5 rounds at -110.
Ketlen Vieira vs. Miesha Tate: When Vieira lost by decision to Yana Kunitskaya in February, she fell victim to the output, pace and clinch game of her opponent over the course of three rounds. If Vieira doesn’t land early or get top position on the ground, there is not a clear path to victory for her. She is fighting an opponent who is a terrible stylistic matchup for her. In Tate’s return from retirement in July, her cardio was endless, and she was able to maintain a very solid pace throughout the contest. Tate will have the wrestling advantage here, and her newly precise and technical boxing will help set up her takedowns. Look for Tate to dictate the pace and eventually tire out Vieira with her wrestling. Pick: Miesha Tate to win at +105.
For more tips from Parker on this fight card’s best bets, go here.
Four more things to know (from ESPN Stats & Information)
1. Michael Chiesa, who faces unbeaten Sean Brady in the co-main event, absorbs the fewest strikes per minute (0.7) in UFC welterweight history. But Brady’s striking accuracy of 65.7% through four UFC fights is nearly 10% higher than the current qualifying all-time leader among 170-pounders, Gunnar Nelson. Brady needs five fights to qualify for the UFC record book.
2. Rani Yahya is looking to join Marlon Vera (9), TJ Dillashaw (8) and Urijah Faber (7) as the only UFC bantamweights with at least seven finishes. In his fight with Kyung Ho Kang, Yahya also can pass Faber for the most submission wins in division history. They each have six.
3. Joanne Wood has landed the most significant strikes per minute (7.36) and most significant strikes (715), and has the best striking differential per minute (2.56) and fourth-highest significant strike accuracy (51.1%) in women’s flyweight history. If she beats Taila Santos, Wood would join Valentina Shevchenko (8), Katlyn Chookagian (7), Lauren Murphy (6) and Gillian Robertson (6) as the only 125-pound women with at least six wins.
4. Adrian Yanez, who faces Davey Grant, is looking to become the first bantamweight to start his UFC career with four finishes. He could become the first 135-pounder to start a UFC career with four consecutive knockouts.
ESPN’s Jeff Wagenheim contributed to this fight preview.