Cat Zingano enters the spotlight

 

130414023137-catzingano-mieshatate-041413-single-image-cutThe future: It’s a place of footlights and fortune and boundless promise, at least in our dreams. There’s also darkness in the future, the unknown. But you take your chances, because any future is better than no future at all.

A couple of guys named Urijah thrust themselves toward the future Saturday night, one more triumphantly than the other. But the most graceful and glorious leap forward during the UFC’s finale of ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ before 5,549 in Las Vegas was made by a fighter not named Urijah — because Urijah is not a woman’s name. That star-in-the-making is Cat Zingano, and her debut performance cast a golden light not only her own career prospects, but also on the unyielding buzz surrounding women’s mixed martial arts.

Both Urijahs fought higher on the bill than Zingano, with the one named Faber taking out Scott Jorgensen in the main event and the one named Hall seeing his hype fizzle rather than sizzle in the reality show final, as 21-year-old Kelvin Gastelum took a split decision. But it was the women’s night, not necessarily to take center stage, but surely to steal the show.

Zingano’s third-round TKO of Miesha Tate, an electrifying back-and-forth tussle that earned both women Fight of the Night bonus checks, was not exactly history in the making. The second women’s bout in UFC history doesn’t get to bask in the same warm glow as February’s Ronda Rousey-Liz Carmouche capital-‘E’ event. But this one was no less important. Sure, Carmouche got the ball rolling for women’s MMA by showing that Rousey, the darling of all media, is not a one-woman show. And Ronda only added to her abundant press clippings by demonstrating that she could overcome adversity. So what else was there to prove? Well, the women’s game still needed to show that beyond its “Rowdy” Ronda star power, it had staying power. Enter Zingano and Tate.

It was the UFC debut for both, of course, but Tate had been on a big stage before. As a former Strikeforce champion, she’d been in a main event in front of a large crowd, had even had her moments against Rousey before succumbing to an armbar late in the first round of their title fight last year. Tate also had been in with a couple of other champions, Sarah Kaufman and Marloes Coenen. Zingano, meanwhile, had built a 7-0 record in smaller promotions against lower-tier opposition. She had a lot of fearsome videos on YouTube, but hey, so did Kimbo Slice.

Tate had predicted that Zingano would be overwhelmed by being in the big show, and for a while that appeared to be the case. Cat was in tears as she walked to the octagon, and as the fight began she looked stiff and tentative, as Tate used aggressiveness in both grappling and striking to seize an early edge. “I was still in a daze,” Zingano later told a Fuel TV reporter on the UFC postfight show.

Even after Zingano got comfortable in there, Tate put her in some bad positions, particularly with a second-round armbar that, after Cat scrambled out of danger, turned into a leg lock. But Zingano patiently maneuvered her way to the relative safety of top position, and in the final minute of the round, she began to do damage with short punches and elbows.

That theme carried on into the third round. Zingano quickly got a takedown and resumed her ground assault, maintaining a positional advantage while remaining relentless with her strikes. Tate eventually struggled to her feet but immediately was felled by a knee to the face. After taking more of a beating on the mat, Tate again managed to stand and again was met with a knee to the face. And then another and another and another, followed by an elbow that dropped her and prompted the third woman in the cage, referee Kim Winslow, to jump in and save the bloody Tate at 2:55 of the third.

Zingano’s finish was spectacular and very much a necessity. It turned out that two of the three judges had scored both of the first two rounds for Tate, who at the post-fight press conference bitterly questioned whether the stoppage was appropriate (it was) and whether all of Zingano’s knees were legal (they were).

“To be honest, I’ve looked up to Miesha since I started in this sport, was scared to death of her,” Zingano said afterward in the cage. “Had no time to show it. Only had time to focus on being my best, bringing everything I had in here and figuring out a way to get that win.”

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