LAS VEGAS — There was a time when Cat Zingano looked at UFC women’s featherweight champion Cris Cyborg as unbeatable, a Brazilian destroyer without weakness. And it’s hard to fault her. Cyborg’s 13-year run of dominance is virtually unparalleled in mixed martial arts. But once Cyborg made her way to the UFC and began regularly competing against Zingano’s fellow bantamweights, Zingano started viewing Cyborg from a different light, a more detached perspective that led her to be one of the few women in the sport actively calling for a chance to test herself against the featherweight queen.
Cyborg’s past two fights — a UFC 214 stoppage over Tonya Evinger and a UFC 219 decision over Holly Holm — have only emboldened Zingano’s confidence in that regard. So while Zingano is, for now, focused solely on her UFC 222 opponent Ketlen Vieira, she still sees a potential showdown with Cyborg looming in her future — and she also sees Cyborg as beatable.
“The last two fights, I saw something,” Zingano said ahead of Saturday’s UFC 222 event. “And I think that maybe it’s because I was looking at her as a potential opponent, where, when she fought Tonya Evinger, I just saw a lot of things that I would’ve done differently, that I felt I could’ve capitalized on Cyborg and what she was doing. The same things with (the) Holly (fight), it was just like, if I fought that fight that day and handled it in the ways that I thought I saw — I just saw holes in it.”
Zingano, 35, thinks her opinion changed on Cyborg after seeing the Brazilian taken into the third round against Evinger, then stretched to a 25-minute decision against Holm. The performances were drastic departures from the kind of fight the MMA world was accustomed to watching from Cyborg, a parade of first-round knockouts over outclassed opponents that provided little insight into who Cyborg actually is as a fighter.
But with a sudden dearth of tape available of Cyborg actually having to compete, adjust, and be somewhat pushed by her last two opponents, doors have opened in Zingano’s mind of potential ways to make history if the time ever comes when she faces the Brazilian killer.
“I think especially the Tonya Evinger fight, it exposed her a bit to me,” Zingano said. “I don’t know. She’s an incredible athlete, very strong obviously, and she has a lot of skill, but I don’t see her as being unbeatable. Ronda (Rousey) was a puzzle. Everyone was like, ‘Well that didn’t work, okay. This next one, what are they going to try? Okay, this next one, what are they going to try?’ Cris is kind of like, ‘Alright, there’s places (to exploit) but who’s going to get it? Who’s going to find the spot where that fits in, where that fits in?’
“It’s just a little different (with Cyborg).”
Still, even as she readies to compete on the same card Cyborg is headlining, Zingano knows work must first be done in her own division before she looks outward to other conquests. The Alliance MMA fighter is returning from a near two-year layoff to face Vieira in a UFC 222 matchup that could decide the next challenger for the bantamweight belt, and she does so at a time when the women’s 135-pound division is in a curious place.
Zingano’s most recent victories are a trio of impressive scalps, to put it mildly. From 2012 to 2014, she not only defeated but also finished Raquel Pennington, Miesha Tate, then Amanda Nunes in spectacular fashion. While injuries and personal issues have limited Zingano’s activity since, the division hasn’t much changed — Tate is retired, but Nunes and Pennington are slated to throw down for Nunes’ UFC bantamweight title on May 12 at UFC 224. And Zingano is confident history will repeat itself if she gets a chance to fight the winner for the 135-pound strap.
“I can be kind of an a**hole when I’m watching them fight,” Zingano admitted. “Because I’m like, ‘I beat you, I beat you there, I’m better than you there, I did that to you there.’ But just, I feel like I’m excited to see them do well, because when I dominate them and they go do well, it kinda pumps me up more as far as what I know I’m capable of, and it’s evidence to me and it just kinda gets me excited. It helps me walk around with my chin up. So it’s cool. It’s a matter of time. I know all of us will probably see each other again, and I think that stir-up in the division is keeping things very interesting.
“I’m an emotional fighter. I’m a person that, when I’m in the right mood, not any one of these girls can touch me,” Zingano added. “When things are right and things are focused, it’s a game to me, and I’m there just stalking and punching and grabbing and tearing people up. It’s not about the sharpness of this exchange or we’re putting together this or that. Hell no. It’s my fight when we fight when I’m right.”
After experiencing immense personal growth over a lengthy period of physical and mental recovery, Zingano entered 2018 ready to finally stay active and make her run. That run starts with Vieira, but if all goes well at UFC 222, Zingano believes that anything is possible, whether it’s Nunes or Pennington — or even Cyborg down the line.
“It’s a fight I still want, but I’m not looking at that fight right now,” Zingano said. “I’m looking at this fight (Vieira) right now, and I’m looking at what I can do in the 135-pound division. Should I be offered that (Cyborg) fight later, oh, hell yeah. I want to take it all. I didn’t come here to take a couple things and go home. I want everything that’s possible that I’ve worked for to show up in my life and be mine. And that was being the No. 1 ranked 125er for a long time. Now it’s being up there with the 135ers, hopefully, to try to be the [No. 1 ranked fighter at] 135. That’s what I’m planning on and that’s what I’m working towards, and then having the 145-pound belt would be amazing. So that’s my goals.”