RIO DE JANEIRO – For years, Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey were the protagonists of one of MMA’s legendary rivalries.

The two only got to meet in the cage twice: first in Strikeforce and then in the UFC. Tate (18-7 MMA, 5-4 UFC) was first the champ, then the challenger. Both resulted in armbar submission wins for Rousey (12-2 MMA, 6-2 UFC). Outside of those fights, however, the fiery verbal exchanges were frequent – peaking when the two coached opposite each other on “The Ultimate Fighter 18” in the lead-up to their second encounter.

Their careers then went separate ways. Rousey defended the UFC’s women’s bantamweight belt four more times before a shocking knockout loss to Holly Holm. Tate ended up taking the title from Holm, before Amanda Nunes claimed it from Tate, and announced her retirement last November after a loss to Raquel Pennington. Rousey has been M.I.A. since last December’s failed comeback effort against Nunes, who dismantled Rousey inside a minute. Three and a half years have passed since Rousey and Tate last fought. Rousey’s return is still a mystery; Tate remains happily retired. But still, she can’t seem to shake the ghost of Rousey in public conversation.

Looking at what came of it, though, Tate is OK with having her name so closely tied to Rousey for so long.

“In hindsight, I definitely feel like it was a good thing,” Tate told MMAjunkie. “I feel like I was blessed to have a rival like Ronda Rousey. Because, without the two of us, there wasn’t enough. She wasn’t enough by herself, and I wasn’t enough, definitely, by myself.

“It was the two of us together, our fight in Strikeforce, that made (UFC President) Dana White and (former UFC CEO) Lorenzo Fertitta say, ‘Wow, OK, maybe the UFC can have a women’s division, because these two were competitive.’” Tate believes the idea of unfair matchups was the main reason behind White’s reluctance to embrace a women’s division in the UFC. And while that first Rousey match back in 2012 ended in the final seconds of the first round, Tate believed she showed enough competitiveness and guts that it convinced the UFC executives there was enough depth to build a women’s roster around.

“I think it was her and my fight together that was so close,” Tate said. “It was back-and-forth, and there was lots of action. She would almost catch me and then I’d have her back. It was very competitive, and even at the end I refused to tap. I let her literally snap my arm in half. That was my choice. I got put in the armbar; that wasn’t my choice. But to let it literally fold backwards was definitely my choice.

“That was because I’m so stubborn, and I had a lot of heart and desire, and I didn’t want to give up. And I think all of those facts together are a big part of the reason why the women’s division is here today. And why we actually have four women’s divisions. It started because that fight was so close and contested. It was a good fight. I can look at it objectively and say it was a very good fight.”

Tate also went into detail about her comments on a possible trilogy fight, which comes with caveats. Tate made sure to clarify, before it becomes the takeaway, that she does not “want to fight” Rousey – or anyone else, for that matter. And looking at their current lives, neither does Tate believe that it’s feasible.

But if Tate was ever to get back “that 110% passion” to return to the cage, there’s really only one person with whom she has unfinished business.

“That was the fight that I was hopefully working toward, and it didn’t come to fruition again. But it almost did,” Tate said. “When Holly Holm fought Ronda Rousey, that was actually supposed to be my fight. I was preparing for that, and it didn’t work out for me, but it did for Holly. And obviously all of that unfolded, and I beat Holly, and it is what it is. But I was ready and prepared in my mind that a third fight with Ronda Rousey was going to happen.

“So it’s kind of always something that just stuck with me, that it was meant to happen. At this point, I highly doubt that can ever come to fruition. I know that she’s engaged to Travis (Browne), and she probably wants to start a family. Who knows if she wants to return? And I certainly have no desire to want to return.”

As for the bad blood we got to see flourish between the two in front of the cameras, Tate says it was all very real.
“We’re just completely different people,” Tate said. “She is who she is, I am who I am. I doubt that we’ll ever probably see eye-to-eye on much. And that’s OK. You don’t have to like everyone. There’s billions and billions of people on this planet. I don’t have to like every single one of them.

“I’m perfectly OK with not liking Ronda Rousey as a person. I respect her tremendously as an athlete. I think she’s great. As a person, not so much. We’re not going to be having coffee at Starbucks any time soon.”

Maybe things could have been different had it not been for the media-fueled rivalry, the competition and the emotionally challenging “TUF” experience. But after that spark was ignited, Tate just doesn’t believe there’s a way to reverse it.

“First impressions are first impressions,” Tate said. “And when you have someone who’s fighting in your division, who starts to talk smack about you, you’re kind of like, ‘Wow, first impressions. Who the hell are you? Rude.’ That was kind of my first impression, like, ‘Jeez, this girl’s talking.’ It kind of set me off on the wrong note and then she didn’t like what I had to say. And that was it.

“We just never, never, never got along. Who’s to say if it had been under completely different circumstances. Maybe if we had been teammates or trained together – maybe. But that’s long gone. That’s never going to happen.”