“Alpha” Cat Zingano got off to a very rough start at UFC 178 versus Amanda Nunes and appeared to be very close to losing by TKO. She survived the first round, though, and came back to beat up Nunes pretty convincingly when it was all said and done. The win over Nunes put the end to the question of who is next in line to fight champion Ronda Rousey.
The UFC made the proper decision by declaring Zingano as the next title challenger. Sure, the two aren’t enemies by any stretch and it’ll be hard to market any sort of ill will toward each other leading up to the fight, but Zingano has let her success speak for itself. She will take an unblemished record with her into the fight with Rousey.
This is all assuming, of course, Zingano is medically cleared to fight.
Following UFC 178, the Nevada Athletic Commission issued its medical suspensions, and Zingano is required to get clearance for an upper back issue or she may have the shot taken away from her due to an injury once again. Without being cleared by a physician, she will have to sit out for six months, effectively paving the way for another fighter to jump into the Octagon with Rousey.
There are those who believe somebody like Bethe Correia should be given the next shot at the belt. She has put on some dominant performances and would no doubt help Rousey build anticipation for the fight much more effectively than Zingano will. A villain needs to enter the picture to continue the lore of Rousey, because fighters who only come across as “happy to be given a chance” to beat the champion are not going to help the UFC. Think of how Miesha Tate and Rousey propelled women’s mixed martial arts into the spotlight.
Yet, the brewing rivalry between Correia and Rousey is all the more reason why the UFC should not throw them into the Octagon in January. Let that smoke turn into a raging fire first, then watch how big the fight becomes after Rousey takes care of Zingano and Correia stomps whoever is thrown at her next. While that storm brews, give Zingano a chance to fight Rousey—it’s the right thing to do.
The “Alpha” Cat currently holds a 9-0 record (2-0 in the UFC) and has only let one of those nine wins go to a decision. She has tremendous strength and resilience, and she can compete with anyone in the Octagon when healthy. Although she showed a strong chin against Nunes by weathering an onslaught of punches to the head, she did seem to have been knocked out for a split second in the first round before another shot by Nunes quickly fired up her sensors once again. Zingano possesses as good a skill set as any fighter Rousey has faced thus far, but it’s going to come down to how well she can deal with the strength of Rousey.
A year or two ago, the game plan against Rousey was all about defending the takedown. But the champion is becoming very good on her feet at a very rapid pace. She’s no longer a one-trick armbar pony and would love nothing more than to land a punch or knee flush on the chin of Zingano to drop her for a knockout. Should Zingano be able to hang with Rousey standing up, she’s still just one judo throw away from being put away by an armbar. It’s really such an uneven fight, but Zingano still deserves a crack at proving that she can overcome the odds and win the belt.
If the fight between Zingano and Rousey takes place in January, as rumored, it would be a win-win for the UFC. The company would be able to do the right thing and reward Zingano with a title fight based on her recent success, and the rivalry between Correia and Rousey would have more time to develop. The rivalry is important because, other than Tate, there doesn’t appear to be anybody else in the division willing to stand toe-to-toe with Rousey as far as marketing and building up the fight. Zingano’s personality doesn’t have the edge or charisma the UFC can use in promoting a fight, but the promotion will be able to do wonders with Correia vs. Rousey.
Even if Zingano’s back injury keeps her out of a January bout, it’d still benefit the UFC to insert anybody but Correia into the mix. This sport thrives upon rivalries, but rivalries take time to develop. Here’s hoping the UFC doesn’t force a Correia/Rousey fight onto the fans sooner than it should.