Miesha Tate ready for her turn in Octagon

Before Miesha Tate can secure a rematch with rival Ronda Rousey, she must get past Cat Zingano. Josh Hedges/Forza LLC/Getty Images

LAS VEGAS -- Grocery lines can be awkward when you're a female mixed martial artist.

Miesha Tate, like any UFC fighter, wears the occasional black eye in public. It used to be, in a grocery line, for instance, she would receive a concerned-but-not-sure-how-to-react look from bystanders.

Lately, though, it's more of an I-wonder-if-that-girl-fights-for-a-living look, which is proof (and satisfying proof, at that) to Tate that the presence of women's MMA is growing.

"I've noticed people seem to have the wheels turning now, instead of the worried look I used to get," Tate told ESPN.com. "I think they are starting to think, 'Maybe she's a kickboxer. Maybe she does MMA.'"

"People are starting to wrap their mind around the idea that women do combat sports. It's been kind of cool to see that process."

Tate, who will face Cat Zingano in the second-ever UFC female fight at The Ultimate Fighter Finale on Saturday, has spent a lifetime experiencing that process.

As a high school freshman in Tacoma, Wash., she joined the boys' wrestling team by "default" because it was one of just two sports offered. A handful of other girls floated on and off the team, but Tate was the only one who stuck with it.

Her current boyfriend, UFC bantamweight Bryan Caraway, is widely credited for introducing her to martial arts, but it was actually a persistent neighbor who got Tate to take the first step.

"A neighbor of mine did karate and said, 'Hey, come try this out,'" Tate said. "I had never seen the UFC, and I wasn't interested at first, but she kept being persistent, so finally I went to appease her and learned some jiu-jitsu, and it was awesome."

Fate continued to push Tate toward a career in MMA. She attended her first amateur event as a spectator in 2006, still convinced the striking aspect of the sport wouldn't appeal to her.

By the time that first event was over, Tate was already signed up for her first fight.

"I said, 'This isn't about violence or blood, this is about competition,'" Tate said. "It was really beautiful to me. I could see myself doing it, and lo and behold, the referee got on the microphone and announced an all-female fight card in three weeks.

"I gave him my info, and three weeks later, I was fighting."

Fate, it seems, was also intent on providing Tate with a rival in the form of current UFC champion and U.S. judo Olympian Ronda Rousey. The two fought in March 2012 for Tate's Strikeforce title, resulting in a first-round submission win for Rousey.

Rousey has been such an overbearing topic for Tate during interviews, she consciously has started to steer conversations away from her. It's not just that she's sick of talking about Rousey, but she's also eager to show the sport is deeper than one athlete.

"I think [UFC 157] came across probably more as a big moment for Ronda Rousey [than women's MMA] because she's really been pushed hard," Tate said. "But people who read into it more than just who's on the poster, I believe it carries that energy of women's MMA as a whole.

"A lot of people just saw Ronda Rousey, Ronda Rousey, Ronda Rousey, but we haven't had the second UFC fight yet. At this point, people are probably just becoming fans of Ronda, but I hope to change that April 13."