Las Vegas’ Ultimate Fighting Championship welcomed women into its famed octagon just a little more than two years ago. In that time, Miesha Tate has firmly established herself as one of the most recognizable, not to mention marketable, faces in the promotion—along with her chief rival in the UFC women’s bantamweight division, champion Ronda Rousey.
Tate’s longtime boyfriend, Bryan Caraway, also competes in the UFC, and while he doesn’t currently enjoy the same type of recognition as Tate, the two are widely regarded as the sport’s preeminent power couple. But the pair, who relocated to Las Vegas from the Pacific Northwest late last year, hasn’t always enjoyed life at the top. Quite the opposite, in fact. Now, as they prepare to compete in the UFC’s July 25 event in Chicago—Tate (16-5) in the night’s co-main event against fellow top contender Jessica Eye (11-2), and Caraway (19-7) against striking specialist Eddie Wineland (21-10-1)—each hopes to inch one step closer to realizing a dream that has demanded remarkable dedication and sacrifice.
When Tate humbly walked into Caraway’s fight club at Central Washington University some nine years ago, he admits he wasn’t so sure about his future girlfriend’s toughness. It didn’t take long for Tate to obliterate that first impression and convince Caraway that he was dealing with someone special. “We tried every day to push her and make her quit,” he says. “She didn’t quit. A year and a half later, I realized, man, this girl has been here every day, working hard. She’s tough as nails. She always wants to train very hard.”
A former high school wrestler, Tate was used to athletic competition but never considered herself much of a “fighter.” But after attending a few of Caraway’s bouts in 2006 and realizing what it would take to succeed in MMA, Tate decided to give it a go. “Miesha came down there and watched and saw how much of a sport it was, and she realized you don’t have to be angry or mad or have negative feelings to fight somebody,” says Caraway, who at the time was considered a top MMA prospect in the Pacific Northwest scene. “It’s a sport, just like wrestling.
“After one show, the promoter announced, ‘Hey, I’m looking to do an all-women’s show in another month or two. If any of you women out there want to fight, just come [and] sign up.’ Miesha went and signed herself up, but she didn’t tell any of us; she told me the next day.”
Tate would go on to show promise in a handful of amateur bouts, and along the way, she and Caraway—who served as her head coach—began a romance away from the gym. Soon after, they doubled down on their commitment in pursuit of their mutual MMA dreams: In short, they sacrificed everything—as in, Caraway gave up medical school aspirations, and the two moved into an RV.
“Miesha, myself and my best friend, Sterling Ford, we all pitched in and bought an RV,” Caraway says. “We realized that if we wanted to train full time, we probably weren’t going to be able to have jobs. Without a job, we can’t have luxuries like an apartment. We basically had to get rid of all of our bills, everything we had that wasn’t a necessity.”
Another Washington-based fighter, Dennis Hallman, allowed the trio to hook up to his gym to power the RV, and also granted them access to his locker room for water and showers. The trio lived there for more than 2½ years. “We didn’t have money to go out and eat, so we’d just buy bread, basic food, and we just all ate in [the RV] and watched movies on a little TV,” Caraway says. “Then we beat each other up at practice every day.”
Things have improved dramatically in the years since: Caraway, 30, enters his July 25 showdown against Wineland as the UFC’s No. 11-ranked bantamweight, while the 28-year-old Tate—who gained international attention while losing twice to Rousey, with the second bout widely recognized as Rousey’s toughest test to date—is currently slotted No. 2 in the women’s bantamweight division. The couple still owns the RV, but today it’s just a mode of transportation: They purchased a house in Mountain’s Edge in December and are now full-time Las Vegas residents.
“I just loved that there was so much to do and so many opportunities, and I felt like I was much more centrally located,” Tate says of the decision to relocate here. “Any time of the day, we can go see a show or ride a zipline, go hiking or go paddle boarding on Lake Mead. It offers a nice break from the monotony of training.”
The opportunity to work with coach Robert Follis, who is spearheading the rebirth of Las Vegas’ once-stagnant Xtreme Couture squad, made the decision a no-brainer. “Coach Follis is one of the best coaches in MMA,” Caraway says. “I realized this could be a really good spot.”
In recent months, all of Follis’ efforts have been focused on getting Caraway and Tate prepared for their upcoming fights in Chicago. It marks the first time in nearly seven years that the couple has fought on the same card. And while an arduous, simultaneous UFC training schedule weaved within the fabric of a day-to-day relationship would be difficult for a lot of couples, Tate insists that preparing together has been mutually beneficial.
“The dieting, the training and all that stuff, I honestly think it’s better that we are in camp together, just for the simple fact that nobody really feels entitled,” Tate says. “Sometimes, when you’re in training camp and the other person’s not, you get pissed off at them for no reason—‘I’m tired. I’m the one who’s dieting.’ But when we’re both in it together, it’s like, ‘Well, we’re going through the same thing.’ Nobody can be mad at the other person for being tired. We’re on the same wavelength.”
And should there come a time when they’re not on that same wavelength, well, at least one of them can escape to the comforts of the RV sitting in the driveway.
John Morgan is a Las Vegas-based mixed-martial arts journalist and the lead staff reporter for MMAJunkie.com.