Cat Zingano’s UFC career almost certainly did not begin as planned.
Squaring off against Miesha Tate at “The Ultimate Fighter 17” finale, the Octagon debutant quickly found herself underneath the former champion, who relentlessly wrestled Zingano to the canvas between cracking her with stiff shots. Though “Alpha” threatened with an early guillotine choke and hit a reversal on the floor, it was Tate who dealt out the majority of the damage and imposed her will in the opening frame.
Much of the same came early in round two, as Tate secured the mount and locked in a deep armbar attempt. Though Zingano escaped that hold, she found herself caught in a heel hook not long after. That attempt would also fail, however, and signaled a massive momentum shift, as Zingano dropped ground-and-pound to close out round two and carried that aggression with her into the bout’s final five minutes.
“I felt like I got woken up in the second round. I was still just really surprised that I was here and this is what I’m doing. I was feeling dazed, and I just thought of my son and my mom and everything I’ve done to get here throughout my life,” Zingano told Fox Sports of her turnaround in the second frame. “This is exactly where I am supposed to be, and none of it is in vain. I’m doing what I’m supposed to do with my life, right here, right now. It just got me started and revved up. I wanted to finish this fight and figure it out, and I did. I came, and I saw, and I conquered.”
Zingano wasted no time in taking it directly to Tate to start round three, hitting a double-leg and pounding away with punches and elbows from half-guard. Though “Cupcake” managed to return to a vertical base, she was met with a violent series of knees that cued referee Kim Winslow to halt the contest.
“I wanted to implement the things that my coaches had taught me. I knew my cardio was in tip-top shape,” said Zingano. “It’s my wrestling coach’s birthday, and I wanted to make sure that tonight was the complete package for him. My husband is here, and he’s my jiu-jitsu coach. I could hear him, [and I could] tell how proud he was that we got here together.”
For her victory, Zingano was awarded a coaching spot opposite UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey on “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 18, after which she will challenge the “Rowdy” one for the title -- a pair of trials for which the undefeated 30-year-old believes she is well prepared.
“Absolutely [I am ready for Rousey]. I can’t wait to get more ready,” said Zingano. “I think my coaching ability is fantastic. I know how to motivate people. I’m very excitable, so I can bring people up when they’re down. I have a lot of skills and technique. Combine [that] with the coaches that I’ll bring, and I think everyone has a really fun camp to look forward to.”