Last Saturday night can accurately be classified as a "whirlwind" for newly minted No. 1 women's bantamweight contender Cat Zingano, whose emotions ran the gamut from the time she walked out to the cage with tears in her eyes to the euphoria that overwhelmed her upon finishing Miesha Tate to earn a date with champ Ronda Rousey.
Even her fight was filled with drama, tension and elation. Zingano got off to a rocky start and was behind on two of the three judges' scorecards when she suddenly found her gear in the third, scoring an early takedown and later, slamming a few decisive knees to the face, ending matters in a third-round TKO.
Or at least that seemed to be the end, but controversy would push the fight's finish into some question. First, Tate immediately contested the stoppage as early, saying she was shooting forward for a takedown at the time the fight was stopped. Shortly after that, fight replays cast doubt on whether the first of Zingano's crushing knees landed while Tate had her hands on the mat, which would have made her a grounded opponent, and the knees illegal.
While Zingano has no doubt that her knee was legal -- she said on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour that she often practices the technique and timing of landing them as an opponent rises to her feet -- the fight stoppage bothered her a bit more. Not because she didn't think the fight was over; she felt referee Kim Winslow's decisions was correct and Tate was done. She simply doesn't want there to be any question in anyone's mind about it.
"It sucks to have a controversial call," she said. "You never like to hear, 'Oh, that shouldn't have ended the fight' or whatever. That sucks. I walked away because I felt she was done. If I didn't think the fight was over I would've needed to be pulled off her. Between the three of us sitting right there and the damage Miesha was taking to her face, when the referee stepped in, that's why it was easy to turn and walk away. Because it was about time. It was within a matter of a couple more strikes before it was going to be beyond return. I kind of wish it would have gone on a little longer so there's no questions, but I think [referee Winslow] did good job keeping Miesha safe."
Of course, Zingano needed a comeback just to get there, rallying from behind after Tate took it to her in the opening two rounds. She said that was partly because of the emotion of the moment.
Hearing the reception from the fans in the Mandalay Bay Events Center was like getting hit with a bucket of ice water, and it shocked her so much that it brought her to tears. The process of regaining her focus proved troublesome, and she likened the whole first round to something like an out-of-body experience.
At the end of the first-round horn, Tate got up by posting her hand on Zingano's face, and that incident brought her back to focus.
"It definitely woke me up," she said. "Went to the second round and had a lot more confidence but still had a bit more to shake out of my body. After getting out of that arm bar, I was really looking forward to being myself and getting back into who I really am. I started fighting my fight. In the third round I came out me, and I was really excited I got there. Really excited."
Following a coaching stint on the next season of The Ultimate Fighter, Zingano will next put her perfect 8-0 record against Rousey's 7-0 mark.
The women's bantamweight champion was in attendance on Saturday, and faced down with Zingano in a photo opportunity. While Rousey cracked a smile at the end, Zingano seemingly had her game face on the whole time, never breaking her intense glare until Rousey turned and walked away.
It almost made it appear as if there were something deeper going on, but Zingano said there were no issues between the two, and that as far as she was concerned, her fight camp started that exact moment.
"I want to see in her eyes and in her soul and see what she’s got," she said. "I'm very lit up, I'm very excited about the opportunity that I just earned, and I'm not taking it lightly. I don't know her, I don't have any animosity towards her, but yeah, we are going to fight and that fight starts now. It started as soon as my hand got raised."
The fight though, is still far in the future. For now, Zingano gets to enjoy a bit more of the fruits of a weekend that could perhaps alter her life forever. There were tears and cheers and everything in between, and the surrealistic nature of it all was perhaps perfectly finished off in the presence of 1990s pop star Vanilla Ice, who first performed an impromptu set at her after-party, and later hung out with Zingano and her team.
"My life definitely has changed in 48 hours," she said.