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Cat Zingano says loss to Ronda Rousey was ultimately a 'really, really good thing'

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By the time Cat Zingano returns to the Octagon on July 9 at UFC 200, it will have been a year-and-a-half since she last appeared. And the last time she did was for the bantamweight title against Ronda Rousey at UFC 184. That fight lasted all of 14 seconds. Rousey won via a straight armbar after a furious initial sequence left Zingano exposed.

It’s been a long time for Zingano, who will face Juliana Pena on the big summer card. Yet she says she hasn’t exactly been idle during her time away.

"The entire time I’ve had the itch to go in there and fight again," Zingano said on Monday’s episode of The MMA Hour. "You know, I really hated the way in which I lost [to Rousey], I hated the fashion in which I lost. I needed to take care of things that went into being my best at this point. I decided to take a trip. I took my son to Thailand and really immersed myself in the stuff I wanted to learn and I wanted to improve on, and when I got a taste of that motivation and that inspiration as far as what I wanted to see my body do, I immediately was excited about it. I came home, I talked to my manager Ed Soares, and he was excited about how I sounded. I watched Miesha [Tate]’s fight against Holly [Holm] and I was super-pumped about all that, and it was just a feeling that I had inside that told me it’s time to get moving again. 

"I feel good, I feel ready."

The 33-year-old Zingano was 9-0 heading into her fight with Rousey, with all but one of them coming via a finish. Two of her conquests were none other than the current 135-pound champion Tate and Amanda Nunes, the women who will fight for the bantamweight title on the same night she returns against Pena.

Zingano had expressed interest in a rematch with Tate leading up to her return, having scored a third-round TKO victory over her back in 2013. And it wasn’t just because Tate is currently wearing the belt. She told Ariel Helwani it was also because she assumed Tate would want to avenge her losses.

"If I put it in perspective for myself, if I were champion right now I feel like I’d be calling out every single person that scored on me, ever," she said. "You hand me the magic wand of I get to be champion, I want to avenge everything ever. I was honestly surprised, because I know at different points in Miesha’s career there were points I was incapable of fighting, whether it was injury or personal things going on at the time, and Miesha did say that at some point she wanted to avenge her loss. Naturally I thought she might say something like that [after she won the belt], but it seems like I’m the only person she doesn’t want to fight right now."

The timing might have made sense for Zingano, given the circumstances.

"Ronda is off the charts because she’s doing what she needs to do to get herself ready for life and what she wants to do with this sport," she said. "I don’t know. If I’m Miesha, I’d want to avenge my losses. But I don’t know what her plan is, or what her point is. I guess she’s doing what she’s doing."

Tate came back to score a fifth-round submission over Holm at UFC 196 in March, in what will stand as one of the more incredible fights of the year. It was Holm’s first title defense since knocking out Ronda Rousey at UFC 193 in November. The women’s bantamweight title has become a bit of a hot potato since she’s been away.

And it was no secret that Zingano was devastated after her performance against Rousey in Los Angeles. Asked if she was over the fight, or if a victory over Pena might put it in her rear-view mirror, Zingano said she’s over it.

"What is there to do? It’s water under the bridge," she said. "I mean, I can’t sit here and regret anything, I can’t change anything about it. What happened happened, and really all I can do is move forward and learn from it. I can be stubborn, and there were things about the fight I was being stubborn about and I didn’t really want to look at. But here I am now, seeing what I needed to see from it removed from the situation all the emotions aside, and I was able to look at it strategically and…I don’t know, I think I’ve been able to fix and maneuver what I needed to do in order to go back to that fight.

"But that’s not the fight I’m going to have now. What I have to do is [fight] a different opponent, and I don’t know, I feel like a different me. A different skill set, a different mindset. It’s humbling to lose, and it’s humbling to lose like that. It’s a really, really good thing, honestly, because it definitely put me in check."

Still, it’s not lost on Zingano that she holds victories over the two women competing for the title at UFC 200. She pointed out that there’s a difference between "deserving" a title shot, versus "earning" one.

"I get why," she said. "One of the things I was definitely trying to make clear when I was showing my interest in wanting to fight Miesha was we’re trying to talk about Cat doesn’t deserve this…I’ve been out for a year, I’m coming off a loss. Okay, well, I get that. But Miesha was handed my fight when I was injured to Ronda coming off a loss, so I don’t really feel like the losses matter, as far as what’s fair.

"The time off, yeah, I get it. It’s been a year. I didn’t just stop. I didn’t do nothing. I was training. Yes I wasn’t actively competing. And if we’re talking about deserving it, yes, I beat Amanda and she fought her way back up. Yes I beat Miesha, but she also fought her way back up. These girls have won every fight since they fought either me or Ronda. So, I get it. I never said it was about deserving. The UFC is typically not about deserving, it’s about earning, and earning is different. If you can talk the talk, if you can put out the examples of why you think it’s a good reason to happen, then sometimes they’ll give it to you. I had a valid reason, and I’m definitely game. I thing the fight would be interesting."