As the fifth round approached in the women’s bantamweight title clash between Holly Holm and Miesha Tate at UFC 196, the challenger’s corner didn’t bother sugarcoating the situation.
Robert Follis, Tate’s MMA coach at Xtreme Couture, knew that Tate had likely lost three of the first four frames on the judges’ scorecards. With that in mind, it was imperative that he and UFC bantamweight Bryan Caraway instilled the proper sense of urgency in the ex-Strikeforce titlist heading into the bout’s final five minutes.
“The assumption that we had, and Brian and I talked about it just as the fourth was ending, was, ‘Hey, the technical advice time (is over).’ We need to light a fire under her ass and tell her to go out and finish this or we’ve got to plan on not winning,” Follis said during a recent appearance on the Sherdog Radio Network’s “Beatdown” show. “I think Brian even said, ‘Hey, I’d rather you get knocked out,’ which I completely agree with.
“I would have rather us gone down swinging and lost than had stayed safe and lost a decision.”
Follis is never one to provide false optimism if one of his charges isn’t performing. That simply isn’t part of his coaching philosophy.
“I’ve always told all my athletes, ‘If I tell you something in a fight, I mean it 100 percent.’ I never want my fighter to have to go, ‘Does he really think I’m winning or does he not this time and he’s just trying to make me feel better? ‘ I never want there to be a doubt in that relationship....For me that kind of honesty lets a fighter make a better decision without ever having to wonder, ‘What do my coaches really mean when they’re saying this?’
Of course, neither of the two worst-case scenarios transpired on Saturday night. Instead, Tate authored one of the more captivating comebacks in UFC title fight history, submitting Holm via rear-naked choke at the 3:30 mark of round five.
Unlike bitter rival Ronda Rousey, Tate was patient throughout the contest, even if that meant losing a few rounds against a superior striker. A hurried approach might have allowed Holm to find the openings she needed, Follis said.
“It was really a fairly simple game plan. One was we needed to get it to the ground and we knew that. We didn’t want to rush, though. Holly is a phenomenal striker, and her specialty is counter striking until she gains an advantage. She’s really good at drawing you in,” he said. “She uses her range, to me, better than any woman in [the UFC] by far right now. And she’s dangerous because of that. She knows how to use a false range where she tries to throw a lot of punches a little bit short to try to get people to step back in so she can land something big and gather up the power of that step in. We were really concerned, especially early in the rounds, the first and second round, not to rush in until we got a good opening.
“And that’s really the basics of it. Once we got her on the ground we spent an immense amount of time getting our shots off, riding once we got on the ground, working into our chokes,” Follis continued. “But the biggest thing we wanted on the standup was just not to take any big damage. We worked a ton on head movement, footwork and us getting in and getting an exchange so we could get a takedown.”
It wasn’t the first time Tate had overcome adversity in a fight. Even in some of her losses, “Cupcake” has displayed a remarkable ability to weather damage. It was something her rival, Rousey, seemingly struggled to make peace with in losing to Holm via second-round knockout at UFC 193.
“She’s had more fights than we’d like to say where she started off a little slow and then had to come back. And she’s always shown phenomenal grit and toughness and listened to her coaches,” Follis said. “When we go out there and say, ‘It’s time to go. This is do or die.’ She is willing to do that. She does not shy away from it. That’s a good thing because we needed that fifth round.”