Former 135-pound title challenger Cat Zingano returned at UFC 222 tonight (Sat., March 3, 2018) after an almost two-year mixed martial arts (MMA) hiatus, taking on No. 5-ranked women’s Bantamweight contender Ketlen Vieira in the opening bout of the pay-per-view (PPV) event inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
And ring rust is real, as Zingano struggled to remain upright during their 15-minute bout, ultimately dropping a split decision to the undefeated Brazilian fighter.
Zingano came out throwing looping right hands, backing up Vieira and putting her on the defensive almost immediately. Vieira, though, managed to counter well, landing a few nice left hands as Zingano barreled in face-first. Vieira continued to sting Zingano with hard combinations, forcing her to shoot in for a takedown. Vieira, though, was able to get back to her feet instantly. Zingano, visibly tired mid-way through the first round, started to unleash kicks as Vieira became the aggressor. Zingano was able to land several nice knees in the clinch, but Vieira timed one just right and used it to take her down to the mat. Vieira struggled to get her head free — Zingano had it pinned to her chest for almost a full minute — and, as a result, could not muster up any significant ground-and-pound before the first round came to a close.
To start the second stanza, Zingano attempted an early takedown, but Vieira was able to reverse her momentum and slam her to the canvas. Vieira landed in full mount, compelling Zingano to roll to her belly. Zingano rolled to her side and Vieira angled for an arm-triangle choke. Zingano was able to escape and buck off Vieira, but moments later she was back on top. Vieira, though, once again was unable to do much with the dominant position — Zingano essentially neutralized her once again. Vieira, perhaps frustrated, stood straight up, but when Zingano failed to get back to her feet, she plopped down right on top of her once again. And, once again, was unable to put together anything meaningful from a dominant top position.
Zingano came out guns blazing to start the third and final frame, but had to pull back after appearing to injure her foot when Vieira checked a kick. Almost immediately, Zingano was on her back once again, with Vieira smothering her from top position. The referee warned Vieira that she needs to do some work, so she stood up and then dove right back down into the same position much to the chagrin of the restless crowd. With two minutes remaining in the fight, Zingano finally got back to her feet, drilling Vieira with uppercuts along the fence. Vieira, though, reversed along the fence and stalled her momentum until the referee separated them. Zingano tried to let her hands go with 30 seconds remaining in the bout and looked like she had Vieira hurt, but it was a case of too little, too late.
It was definitely a disappointing loss for Zingano, who seemed like a sure-fire champion with consecutive wins over Raquel Pennington (No. 2) former champion Miesha Tate and reigning 135-pound queenpin Amanda Nunes. She’s now mired in a three-fight losing streak, while Vieira remains undefeated (10-0) with four of them coming inside the Octagon.
With the women’s 135-pound division looking not-so snappy at the moment, don’t be surprised to see Vieira in a title fight sooner than later.
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