UNSUPPORTED BROWSER
MMA

Cat Zingano enters the spotlight amid huge buzz for women's MMA

Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images

Cat Zingano (right) defeated Miesha Tate with a third-round TKO at Saturday's MMA event.

The 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."

And with the win comes an opportunity for the highest glory in women's MMA. Zingano will coach opposite Rousey on the next season of 'The Ultimate Fighter,' then fight her for the UFC championship. "Man, I can't wait," she said. "Me and her, we're both gonna rumble, I know that. I know it's gonna come down to heart, it's gonna come down to technique, it's gonna come down to speed. Everything that's out there for the women to do, we're out there to represent. I can't wait for that fight. I know she's been looking forward to it, too. We're going to put on a battle. It's gonna be amazing. You better watch."

If you do, you'll be watching on Fox Sports 1. UFC president Dana White announced that the 18th season of the reality show will be on the new all-sports channel, envisioned as a direct competition to ESPN. The show begins in September, and Fox Sports 1 also will feature the UFC on the channel's Aug. 17 launch date, televising the fight promotion's second visit to Boston that evening.

The other new TUF twist: Along with female coaches, the show will feature both male and female fighters. "I think it's great for people to see women fighting on the show, and also great for people to see men being coached by women," said Rousey, who was at cageside. The champ acknowledged that she was impressed by Zingano's ability to perform under pressure, "and I'll be ready for that."

This past season of the reality show was dominated by Urijah Hall, whose striking, as creative as it was vicious, sent opponents to the hospital and created quite the buzz. His coach, Chael Sonnen, at one point told the middleweight, "You're a contender for the title, Uriah. I tell you now: I spent five years in that weight class, you're a contender." It was just Chael being hyperbolic Chael, though, as Hall had lost his only two fights against UFC-level competition (Chris Weidman, Costa Philippou). Still, the 28-year-old New Yorker did look like a wrecking machine against TUF competition. Until he met Gastelum.

A compact grappler fighting out of Arizona, Gastelum was an aggressor throughout, missing with wild haymakers that made him look clumsy but nonetheless staying busily aggressive. Hall tried to show off the slick, hands-down, come-and-get-me style of Anderson Silva but did not prove to be as elusive as "The Spider." He took some shots, ended up on the bottom in many grappling scrambles, and never was able to put fear into his opponent. It was a close fight, though, and both men -- not just the 21-year-old with the "six-figure UFC contract" and the keys to a new Harley -- will be seen again inside the octagon. As will the five other TUF 17 fighters who won.

And the future also has something in store for Urijah Faber, although who knows what that is? The bantamweight division has a champion who hasn't fought for a year and a half, and an interim champ who's scheduled to fight someone else. Both of those belt holders, Dominick Cruz and Renan Barão, have beaten Faber. But he's ready for another go. "I'll be up there ready to fight anybody," he told the crowd after choking out his friend and sometime training partner, Jorgensen, at 3:16 of the fourth. "Anyone."

More MMA

SI.com

Drag this icon to your bookmark bar.
Then delete your old SI.com bookmark.

SI.com

Click the share icon to bookmark us.