Until this year, Miesha Tate seemed destined to spend her career in Ronda Rousey's shadow. She persevered for several years as the second-best fighter in her emerging sport, twice failing to stop Rousey's remarkable rise to stardom.
Everything changed in the past few months after Tate finally got her break, choking Holly Holm unconscious to win the UFC bantamweight title.
And then this week, she got a few more breaks. Thanks to Jon Jones' positive drug test, Tate suddenly finds herself in the incredible position of fighting in the main event at the landmark UFC 200.
"It's such a great opportunity to deliver an excellent performance and really represent women's MMA," Tate said of the chance to fight on the main pay-per-view card. "That's what I'm all about. I want to go out there and I want to defend my belt, and I want to make a statement that women's MMA is awesome."
UFC 200 was absolutely stacked with stars even before Anderson Silva agreed to replace Jones on two days' notice against Daniel Cormier. Nine current or former UFC champions are on the biggest pay-per-view show of the summer.
But on a night also featuring Brock Lesnar's return from a 4 1/2-month MMA absence and a tantalizing interim featherweight title bout between Jose Aldo and Frankie Edgar, Tate's bantamweight title defense against Amanda Nunes has been promoted to the main event Saturday. UFC President Dana White said he wanted to show respect to Tate, the only undisputed champion risking her belt.
"I feel there's a lot pressure on me, but the thing that I really like about that is I know it," Tate said. "I accept it, and I know that I thrive well under pressure."
Just four months after winning the belt that Holm took from Rousey, Tate is on top of the 135-pound division at the moment it gets hit with mixed martial arts' brightest spotlight.
And then Tate (18-5) barely made weight Friday morning, desperately cutting ounces until she jumped on the scale moments before the deadline. After a few hours to hydrate, Tate was reinvigorated by the thought of fighting Nunes (12-4).
"I'm going to go out there (Saturday) and I'm going to rip her heart out of her chest and stomp on it," Tate said with a grin.
Not much has come easy for Tate, but she perseveres.
She picked up MMA in 2005 after a high school wrestling career, and she fought in a series of minor-league promotions for little more than pride.
Tate fought Rousey in 2012 and 2013, losing by armbar both times. She seemed stuck — unable to beat the biggest star in the sport, but better than just about everybody else. But Tate kept grinding and won her next five fights.
When Holm thrashed Rousey, the star boxer seemed unbeatable — but Tate beat her in March with patience and canny fighting skills, luring the superior striker into an inescapable choke. At 29, she was finally a champion.
Tate has been enjoying the spoils of her title, appearing on "Good Morning America" and "Conan." Yet she also turns down many more opportunities, including chances to add to her fledgling acting credits after appearing in a recent film.
Tate is mindful of the way Rousey's public persona exploded shortly before Holm kicked her in the head and ended her title reign.
"You have to keep your eyes focused on the task at hand," Tate said. "You have to ask yourself, 'What do I really want?' To me, the most important thing is to defend my belt. It's not making movies. If those things can fall into place in a time when it makes sense, then great. But in the middle of my training camp, you've just got to tell them no."
Her current task is Nunes, a Brazilian veteran on a three-fight winning streak. Tate claims she was surprised when her next bout wasn't a rematch with Holm, but she accepted the matchup.
She also hopes for a third fight with Rousey, who hasn't fought since losing in November and shows little indication that she's hungry to get back on the MMA grind.
"I would be disappointed if (Rousey) doesn't come back, if I don't get that opportunity," Tate said. "There would be a void that didn't get filled. I hope that's not the case. But if it is, life goes on."
UFC 200's pay-per-view card begins with heavyweights Cain Velasquez and Travis Browne. The undercard features former bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw, former welterweight champion Johny Hendricks and several other title contenders alongside surefire crowd-pleasing fights featuring Joe Lauzon, Diego Sanchez, Jim Miller and Takanori Gomi.