When former UFC bantamweight champion Miesha Tate retired from mixed martial arts in 2016 after a loss to Raquel Pennington, she thought that was truly going to be the end of her career.

Now, one successful fight into her return to the Octagon, Tate is back in the main event for the first time since UFC 200 as she battles Brazilian Ketlen Vieira to headline Fight Night in Las Vegas this Saturday.

The 35-year-old says that getting herself together mentally was one of the most important parts of being physically ready to return to the world of fighting.

“The body follows the mind, when the mindset had left me, when I didn’t really have anything left in my soul, so to speak, in my heart, I knew that I had to walk away from the sport and I thought that was going to be finite,” Tate told TSN.  “I never thought I would be coming back and doing this again, but it was more so that I never thought I would want to and it took me about four years to really allow for that conversation and that thought to cross my mind again and that’s when I knew that I wanted to fight again.”

“I knew I was healed from all of that past trauma and the things that I associated with the sport that I thought were so detrimental and negative to me, really it wasn’t so much about the sport, it was more about me and what was going on in my personal life and I think those things are expressed a lot of times when we fight.  Whether we fight through it valiantly or sometimes it swallows us up, but it would be a shame for me not to actually be able to put my best foot forward in this sport before I leave it entirely.  So this is me and that’s what you’re going to get, you’re going to get me at my very best.”

Tate at her best is a very lofty position as she is one of only four women to ever hold the bantamweight title in the UFC and though her reign ended more than five and a half years ago, she is still the most recent ex-champion among women at 135 pounds.

“A lot of people want to say that the division has somehow passed me by, but we still have the same champion in the division as when I left and she’s only a couple years younger than I am, so I’m not buying into it,” said Tate. “I don’t think this sport has passed me by at all and I think this will be the perfect opportunity for me to show that being a refreshed veteran is actually the best position anyone could ask to be in.”

After a blazing start in MMA, Vieira has suffered a few setbacks. She had the 10-fight winning streak she had built to open her career snapped in a loss to Irene Aldana at UFC 245 in 2019 and then after a victory over Sijara Eubanks, dropped her most recent outing to Yana Kunitskaya on a Fight Night card in February.

Tate believes her opponent on Saturday has too much tied up in wins and losses, a place that she used to be in her career.

“I think she tends to put too much pressure on herself and it’s the circumstances around her probably,” said Tate. “She seems like a really nice woman, it’s a lot to ask of anybody.  When you base your whole livelihood off winning or losing, I’ve been there before, it’s an insurmountable amount of pressure because it’s your identity.  That’s where I have grown and evolved, I no longer identify only with a result, I identify as a fighter, as a mother, as a radio show host, as an analyst, as so many things that make me complete as a person, that I’m not really tied to an outcome.”

“She’s at that point where she hasn’t made it yet, she has a chip on her shoulder, she has so much to prove and so many people she feels are riding on her shoulders, the weight of the world is on her shoulders.  It’s a tough spot to be in, it kinda sucks that I have to beat her up on Saturday because she’s probably a really cool chick.”

Tate is currently the No. 8-ranked fighter in the division and if she gets a win over her No. 7-ranked opponent on Saturday, the path could open up for a title rematch against Amanda Nunes.  

The native of Tacoma, Wash., believes if she wins the main event bout in style, her name belongs with the top contenders, then it’s just a matter of if she’s ready for another shot at the gold.

“If I go out there and win in the way that I’m planning on winning, I believe that absolutely puts me in the title conversation and the only person that possibly makes sense besides myself is Irene Aldana, but the thing that Irene doesn’t have on her side is the history that Amanda and I have,” said Tate. “You know as well as I know, business is business and sometimes the storyline and what is going to interest people the most is what takes precedent. I don’t want to take forever, but I don’t want to rush myself either, I think it really comes down to the performance this Saturday. If I get a great finish and I feel good, you might just see me gunning for the title. If I feel like I need one more to get in there and mixed it up or it’s the proper progression again, then that’s an option, too.”