Cat Zingano made her Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) debut on Saturday night (April 13, 2013) at The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 17 Finale from the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, taking on former Strikeforce 135-pound champion Miesha Tate.
Welcome to the big show, Mrs. Z.
Zingano improved to 8-0 with a gritty technical knockout win over Miesha Tate, despite a rocky start to the proceedings. "Cupcake" had her eating leather in the early exchanges, and likely took home a few extra points in the first half of the fight with an advantage in wrestling.
The former Ring of Fire (ROF) champ hulked up in the third round and turned on the jets, fighting back with a ruthless ferocity that had a stunned Tate on the defensive. A few brutal knees followed by a stinging right hand and referee Kim Winslow had no choice but to jump in and call it a night (see Tate's battered face here).
It's exactly the kind of finish UFC needed to promote its upcoming season of TUF 18.
While Tate may have made for a more entertaining coach on the FOX Sports 1 reality show, it would have been a bit more challenging to sell mixed martial arts (MMA) fans on a rematch against Ronda Rousey, considering how violently she was finished in her first go-round against "Rowdy."
And there's certainly nothing wrong with a fresh face.
Zingano doesn't have the built-in history with Rousey, or the ability to talk herself up like Tate, but there will be 12 weeks of TUF 18 for her to grow into her new role (see the poster here). Not to mention her opponent -- who is no stranger to talking tough -- can help get her riled up.
At present, her marketability is in her performances (See Rousey and UFC President Dana White comment on them here).
In addition to sharing the champion's perfect 8-0 record, seven of those eight wins have been finishes. The Coloradan is also a decorated grappler and there was a point in Rousey's fight against Liz Carmouche at UFC 157 when "Girl-RIlla" was able to take her back and secure a neck crank.
Carmouche eventually fell by way of armbar, but there was a glimmer of hope for all future challengers.
The most important aspect of selling this future fight -- and the roundabout way the promotion will get there -- was "Alpha's" ability to seal the deal in "Sin City." Squeaking by with a split or close unanimous decision win over an opponent Rousey has already demolished would have made the ensuing season of TUF 18 feel like a long, drawn out commercial for the Judoka's latest highlight-reel finish.
Now it feels like we may actually end up with a competitive contest. Zingano will be the underdog come fight night, no question, but at least we've been given the opportunity to make a legitimate argument for the upset. Octagon jitters, intrusive media coverage and all that other ancillary nonsense that accompanies a UFC debut is now behind her.
Get ready for the best Cat Zingano we've ever seen.
Will it be enough?