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When Cat Zingano defeated Amanda Nunes at UFC 178, she did more than just defeat Brazil’s great female championship hope.
For a moment, everyone questioned if she could rise to the top of her division. The death of a significant other, combined with an injury that has ended careers would be too much for many. But like she did against Miesha Tate in their 2013 fight-of-the-year candidate, Zingano persevered after a slow start to topple her opponent with a dramatic third-round stoppage.
Now she’s in line for a world title opportunity yet again (the first was cancelled due to the torn ACL). Zingano has a bout against world championship opportunity schedule for early 2015 against the most devastating force in women’s mixed martial arts, Ronda Rousey.
What makes Zingano the most dangerous opponent yet is her intangibles; she has a variety of skills that can’t be taught which other fighters in the division have seemed to lack.
There’s a fearlessness to her that radiates through her interviews and fighting style. She’s not just saying that she can’t be stopped; she’s proving it with every fight.
Her durability has been a distinguishing figure throughout her run in the UFC’s bantamweight division, and seems to be something other Rousey opponents lack. She has survived incredible amounts of punishment and come back from seemingly insurmountable positions to defeat opponents.
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Zingano gets stronger as a fight goes on. If she can survive Rousey’s initial onslaught (her last two opponents lasted a combined 82 seconds), then perhaps Zingano can put Rousey in those vulnerable positions she has yet to experience.
Of course, the problem with fighting Rousey is that it puts the veil of perfection in jeopardy.
Zingano’s appeal to fight fans is in the fact that she hasn’t faced Rousey, and therefore hasn’t been exposed. Her attraction is strong because she hasn’t lost, and therefore presents an opportunity for bantamweight relativity that has not yet existed.
In the simplest terms, Zingano represents a hero who has overcome tremendous odds. Rousey is the loud-mouthed villain who many people want to see lose.
Fighting Rousey has been a career killer for most of her opponents. Sara McMann and Alexis Davis were both marketable stars, with Davis even co-headlining a Fight for the Troops card in November of 2013. Now, both are a hard sell as viable contenders and will be hard-pressed to get near a world title opportunity again in their UFC careers.
Both Miesha Tate and Liz Carmouche have seen a significant decrease in popularity, granted not on the levels of McMann and Davis. Tate’s most recent bout saw her fight a debuting fighter on a card in Japan, while Carmouche has lost two of three bouts since her loss to Rousey. Tate is a mere 3-2 since her first fight with Rousey (one of those losses was in the rematch with Rousey).
This isn’t to say that Zingano shouldn’t challenge for the title. Her marketability makes her the top contender and her skills make her the most viable threat remaining to the seemingly untouchable crown.
If she can win, Zingano will bring a vibrancy and relativity to the bantamweight division that has never been seen before. She will be looking to end the one-woman show, which has run rampant over the division for the past three years.
Either way, someone’s veil of perfection will be raised. Someone’s vulnerabilities will be exposed. This isn’t Tate blinded by rage or Davis who is star struck from her first world title fight. Zingano knows there is life outside of mixed martial arts, and that makes her even more dangerous.
As much as Rousey has to lose, Zingano has just as much. With a devastating loss, the interview requests will dry up. The autograph requests will dissipate. She is famous because of her potential, which is only sustainable if that potential can be delivered upon.
If Rousey’s other opponents are any example, Zingano’s reputation and relevancy are on the line when she challenges for the world title.
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