Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) recently made the decision to create a women's mixed martial arts (MMA) division, based largely on the success of female fighting sensation Ronda Rousey.
In fact, "Rowdy's" success under the now-defunct Strikeforce banner was enough to convince UFC President Dana White that he could headline a pay-per-view with the former Olympian, which he did at UFC 157: "Rousey vs. Carmouche" last February.
There was just one problem.
Rousey was a queen without a kingdom. With the women's 135-pound division still in its incubator, UFC matchmakers scrambled to import whatever stragglers were leftover from the Strikeforce acquisition, including Liz Carmouche and Miesha Tate, among others.
They even threw up the Cat signal.
Cat Zingano was one of the best kept secrets in women's MMA. Aside from wearing gold under two separate regional promotions, "Alpha" is a four-time All-American and national champion in wrestling, as well a medalist in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
It should come as no surprise then, to learn she has yet to be defeated in her professional MMA career.
Before getting called up to the big show, where she meets Miesha Tate at The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 17 live finale this Saturday night (April 13, 2013) in Las Vegas, Nevada, Zingano was booked to throw down against fellow rising star Raquel Pennington.
They would face off under the Invicta FC banner last October at Memorial Hall in Kansas City. This fight, unbeknownst to them, was about more than just winning and losing. It would become an audition for a spot on the UFC roster in 2013.
Here's how it all went down.
Referee Greg Franklin gets the action started and Zingano bumrushes Pennington, driving her into the fence. Knees are exchanged from both combatants as they jockey for position. A full minute goes by and "Rocky" struggles to break free of the clinch.
Once she finally does, "Alpha" muscles her to the ground. Pennington takes advantage of an open half guard to regain her footing and they're right back into the clinch. Zingano gives her no room to breathe and works the knee inside to soften up the body.
"She's gonna be all bruised up tomorrow from all those knees," remarks cageside color commentator Muhammed Lawal.
Pennington briefly reverses and lands a few shots of her own, but finds her back against the cage once Zingano gets her bearings. With 60 seconds left to fight in the opening frame, the Kansas City crowd erupts in chants of "Rocky! Rocky!"
Zingano answers with a trip takedown and two hard elbows at the bell.
Pennington opens the second stanza by blocking a front kick and returning fire with one of her own. Zingano eats it and puts "Rocky" in reverse with a flurry of punches. "Alpha" runs out of real estate and returns to the clinch, where she controlled much of the first round.
After a brief struggle, the former Ring of Fire (ROF) champion tries to dump Pennington on the floor, but she defends well and stays on her feet. Zingano is persistent, however, and takes it south with a perfectly executed lateral drop.
The end is near.
Zingano stabilizes her prey with the knee-on-belly position before jumping into mount. Pennington gives up her back and looks for a back door escape, but "Alpha" pitches herself backward and slinks an arm around "Rocky's" neck in the process.
Pennington taps to the rear naked choke at 3:32 of round two.
If Zingano can replicate that performance and dispatch "Cupcake" this weekend in "Sin City," she will move on to coach season 18 of TUF opposite Rousey, before moving on to a 135-pound title fight later this year.
For more on that fight, as well as the growing UFC women's division, click here and here.