Wednesday February 25th, 2015

Everything you need to know about this weekend's big fight.

Overview

Though standing only 5 feet 7 and known more for the harai goshi than the free throw, she is the UConn women’s basketball team. No, she’s actually more than that. The most dominant hoops squad since John Wooden owns nine NCAA championships and set a record a few years back with a 90-game winning streak. But hoops perfection eventually gets blemished. Not every season ends undefeated. Not every trophy sits in the glass case in Storrs.

Serena Williams has double faulted on match point. Lindsey Vonn has crashed into the agony of defeat. Jackie Joyner-Kersee shimmered like gold on the track, except when she settled for silver or bronze.

Ronda Rousey owns Olympic bronze, too. That was in judo, back in 2008. But seven years later she is in a different sport and at a different level. In mixed martial arts, the 28-year-old Californian is 24-carat pure dominance. We shouldn’t be comparing her merely to the other alpha females in sports, either. We should be measuring her alongside both genders’ all-time elites. Jordan, Montana, Federer, Gretzky--all greats ones, but all losers on occasion. Floyd Mayweather hasn’t lost in 47 prizefights, but his mastery is safety-first efficiency, dull to the eye, no match for the oooh’s and aaah’s of watching a Rousey conquest.

“Rowdy Ronda” has competed 10 times as a professional. She has won every time. Only once has her worknight been extended past the first round. Six times she has finished opponents in the very first minute, including in the last defense of her UFC women’s bantamweight championship, a 16-second knockout of Alexis Davis last July.

On Saturday, Rousey is at it again, putting her belt on the line against Cat Zingano in the main event of UFC 184 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles (10 p.m. ET, PPV).

Both fighters are unbeaten, but Zingano’s nine wins have been an exercise in perseverance. Though she’s fought to a decision only once, three more of her victories came in the third round--three of her last four, in fact, which suggests that as the competition has grown stiffer, “Alpha Cat” has had her hands full more and more. But one thing hasn’t changed: She’s always come out on top.

That whole dynamic was never truer than in the fight that put her in position to challenge for the belt. Back in April 2013, Cat fought Rousey nemesis Miesha Tate with Ronda at cageside. The champ was visibly impressed by how Zingano, who appeared to be on the way to dropping a decision, roared back to seize the third-round finish.

The title shot earned that night slipped away, though, as Zingano blew out her knee in training. Then, early last year, her personal life went awry, as her husband and jiu-jitsu trainer took his own life. As mother to a young child, Cat had to put family matters ahead of her pursuit of a UFC belt.

But now Zingano, who is second in the SI.com women’s bantamweight rankings, has her focus back on the one athlete ahead of her. And Rousey, who along with being No. 1 among 135-pound women also ranks No. 4 on our pound-for-pound list, has her focus squarely where it needs to be. Ronda has two movies soon to be released--Furious 7 in April and Entourage in the summer--and is working on an autobiographical book. But those matters are out of sight, out of mind right now while Rousey deals with a challenger she’s referred to as “the toughest chick I’ve ever come across.”

In addition to the 10 p.m. ET pay-per-view telecast of the five-fight main card, four prelims will be shown on Fox Sports 1, starting at 8 p.m., and the event’s first two bouts will be available on the UFC Fight Pass online service at 7. The main card also will be screened by Fathom Events at movie theaters nationwide.

Background

Finally, it’s Zingano’s time. She’s been next in line for nearly two years, ever since she beat Tate and took over the No. 2 spot among bantamweight women. But while she was healing up both physically and emotionally, life went on in the UFC. A couple of months after Zingano vs. Tate went down, Rousey took on then-unbeaten Sara McMann and finished her in just over a minute. Then, in the summer, the champ dispatched Alexis Davis in mere seconds.

Next?

Zingano is the rightful challenger, but even on Saturday night there’ll be a shadow hovering above the octagon. One night earlier, less than two miles from the Staples Center, the Invicta FC women’s promotion will hold an event at the Shrine Auditorium. In the headlining bout, Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino will defend her featherweight belt. Is it a coincidence that the two best fighters in women’s MMA are competing on consecutive nights in Los Angeles? Might the UFC, which has a partnership with Invicta, be setting the table for the biggest showdown in the women’s game? Might this be a case of getting ahead of yourself?

We’ll soon find out.

Last Five Fights

Rousey
7/5/14 Alexis Davis W KO 1
2/22/14 Sara McMann W TKO 1​
12/28/13 Miesha Tate W Sub 3​
2/23/13 Liz Carmouche W Sub 1​
8/18/12 Sarah Kaufman W Sub 1​
Zingano
9/27/14 Amanda Nunes W TKO 3
4/13/13 Miesha Tate W TKO 3​
10/6/12 Raquel Pennington W Sub 2​
5/14/11 Takayo Hashi W KO 3​
12/10/10 Carina Damm W TKO 2

Tale of the Tape


Rousey
 
Zingano

Feb. 1, 1987

BIRTH DATE July 1, 1982​

Riverside, Calif.

BIRTHPLACE

Broomfield, Colo.

Venice, Calif.

RESIDENCE

Broomfield, Colo.

10-0

RECORD

9-0

135*

WEIGHT

135*

5’7” 

HEIGHT

5’7” 

66”

REACH

70”

* Official weights announced at the weigh-in (Friday, 7 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1)

Other Numbers to Count On

73: Percentage of striking accuracy by Cat Zingano, who needs to land early and often to keep Ronda Rousey off of her.

8.27: Takedowns per 15 minutes by Rousey, a number -- unmatched in the UFC -- that takes into account that all but one of her fights have ended in the first round. Zingano’s average is 2.47.

2:57: Average time, in minutes and seconds, of a Rousey fight. Zingano’s last an average of 12:08.

Greatest Hits

Ronda Rousey’s most recent title defense (don’t blink):

Cat Zingano earns her shot at the belt by stopping Miesha Tate:

Matchup

Zingano is an aggressor and an accurate striker, and that combination might put Rousey on her heels at the start. But Cat needs both to be working--aggression by itself is simply going to put her in the crosshairs of Ronda’s grappling game unless it’s accompanied by not merely the threat of fisticuffs but the pop-pop-pop of it.

“Alpha Cat” is a grappler, too, but she’s not at Rousey’s level, so she’d be wise to utilize her wrestling defensively, clinching only briefly, staying on the move. Problem is, Zingano is a proud competitor who, if her public statements are to be believed, has faith that her wrestling will outshine Ronda’s judo. That’ll be mighty impressive if it happens. Shocking, too.

Of course, Zingano can’t abandon her strengths altogether. She’s an in-fighter, and she must utilize that and her other rugged weapons if she hopes to wear down or take out the champ. But she can’t allow herself to be lulled into a ground fight without hurting Rousey first. The Olympic medalist is simply out of her league there.

For as long as the fight remains standing, though, the challenger has a chance. At least one would think so. Then again, it may be that Ronda’s striking game, under the tutelage of Edmond Tarverdyan, has evolved beyond Zingano’s, too. But Cat has to fight her somewhere.

The Odds

Rousey is the heavy betting favorite, with a money line ranging from -855 (bet $100 to win $11.70) to -1278 (bet $100 to win $7.82) at various sportsbooks. The line on Zingano ranges from +450 (bet $100 to win $450) to +700 (bet $100 to win $700).

Prediction

Rousey has lauded Zingano for her resilience, but that’s not going to get the job done against the champ. If “Rowdy Ronda” gets you in a bad position, she’s going to finish the job. There’s no coming back, not if you intend to bring your arm with you. Rousey by submission. 

Fighting Words

“Cat’s resilience is one of the things that has really impressed me about her the most. And I think that’s what’s really gotten her most of her fans. It’s not just the way that she fights but the way that she endures. It’s extremely impressive and one of those things that I will definitely keep in mind for the fight. She’s not one of those people that can be intimidated, so I won’t even bother. She’s not one of those people that can start losing a fight and you can count on them being a front-runner and just beating themselves. She’s one of those people that has to be finished all the way until the very, very end. And I’m ready for that. I’m ready for a five-round war, if it needs to be that way.”
-- Ronda Rousey on Cat Zingano, during a conference call with reporters

“Well, I’m different. I know she knows that. I know the whole promotion knows that. I have things to offer that people haven’t seen before. I just have to be me … go out there with my intensity and my aggression. And I’m unstoppable, I know that.”
-- Cat Zingano on her own resilience, during the same media call

The Rest of the Card

Raquel Pennington vs. Holly Holm, women’s bantamweight; Jake Ellenberger vs. Josh Koscheck, welterweight; Alan Jouban vs. Richard Walsh, welterweight; Tony Ferguson vs. Gleison Tibau, lightweight.

Preliminary card (8 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1): Mark Muñoz vs. Roan Carneiro, middleweight; Roman Salazar vs. Norifumo Yamamoto, bantamweight; Dhiego Lima vs. Tim Means, welterweight; Derrick Lewis vs. Ruan Potts, heavyweight.

Online prelims (7 p.m., UFC Fight Pass): James Krause vs. Valmir Lazaro, lightweight; Masio Fullen vs. Alexander Torres, featherweight.

Programming Notes

Mike Goldberg will handle blow-by-blow and Joe Rogan analysis for the main-card telecast on pay-per-view as well as prelims on Fox Sports 1 and the UFC Fight Pass. An hour-long postfight show begins at 1 a.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.

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