With almost a two-year layoff between fights, it was going to take a lot to spoil Cat Zingano’s return to action.
Yes, the one-time bantamweight title challenger dropped a split decision to Ketlen Vieira at UFC 222. And yes, it was her third straight loss, leaving her winless since defeating current bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes at UFC 178 over three years ago.
But given the setbacks that Zingano has faced outside of the cage, the 35-year-old fighter was focused on all the positive aspects of fight week regardless of how it ended.
“I had fun. I had a good time,” Zingano told Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour on Monday. “From the weigh-ins, from the whole fight week, everything just kind of fell together and I felt strong, I felt confident. I missed all of it and I loved that I missed it. That meant a lot to me to miss it.
“I walked through so much to just get here and to stay here and to still be on top of my game and to still be training. Camp went as good as possible, a couple of catastrophes here and there just like life goes, but whatever, I was just excited to get there.”
Injuries have limited Zingano’s cage time for the past few years, with just one fight each in 2015, 2016, and 2018 (in fact, Zingano has not competed more than once in a calendar year since 2010). And that’s to say nothing of the personal tragedy that befell her and then seven-year-old son Brayden on January 2014 when Zingano’s husband Mauricio committed suicide.
Viewed through that lens, it’s understandable that Zingano finds satisfaction inside the Octagon, even if it means going three hard rounds with a dangerous contender like Vieira.
“She’s very strong, she’s smart, and she beat me with class, and I’m really grateful for getting three five-minute rounds,” Zingano said. “I’m really grateful that I got all of that time back in there and I’m glad I got to fully experience in it and have it shown to me again what we’re doing in there. It makes me excited to maintain and it makes me excited to get in there and do it again.”
As for when again will be, Zingano stated that she suffered hardly any physical setbacks in the UFC 222 loss and feels healthy enough to return soon. She’s scanned the UFC calendar and is keeping an eye on the organization’s upcoming trip to Santiago, Chile.
“The last couple of days I asked for opinions and possibilities as far as the May 19 card in Chile,” Zingano said. “I know it’s far in distance, but not far in time and I just kind of want to keep the ball rolling and keep moving and see who would be game to go at that time. That one sounds good to me, but I haven’t gotten any confirmation on that.”
At the moment, the only thing that Zingano can control is her training and what happens next when she steps into the cage. Her last three losses have come at the hands of Vieira, Ultimate Fighter 18 winner Julianna Pena, and the once indomitable Ronda Rousey, so it’s unclear whether the matchmakers will continue to book Zingano against top contenders or find an opponent against whom the odds are more favorable.
Regardless, you won’t catch Zingano campaigning for an easy fight or looking back at the bouts that have slipped through her fingers.
“It was a split decision. I think if they would have said I won the fight, I would have felt like she got robbed. I would have been very disappointed to hear that. I think she won,” Zingano said. “I felt good, I was sad, I went in the back, I had myself a good cry… I feel like I’m grateful for those rounds. I’m grateful I got 15 minutes out there to knock the dust off and now I’m back. Now I’m here. If that’s what it took for me to get back in there — it was, again, a No. 1 contender fight or another title fight-level of fighter, everyone I’m fighting is undefeated when I get my hands on them. Everyone I’m fighting is in the top five. It’s not like I’m out here trying to finagle some crappy fighters and get easy wins. I want the best-of-the-best.
“Yeah, it’s a bummer, but this is all part of my journey. This is all part of what I’m doing, where I’m going, and I believe that. I really, really believe in the person that I’m working to become. If that means I have to lose a few fights and it means I have to learn this way then whatever. Life has been way harder at way different times and it’s just all part of the journey, it’s just all part of what I’m trying to do here.”