Eight years after they briefly met in the octagon, Cat Zingano and Ronda Rousey maintain a personal connection, texting each other about family and career. So when Rousey reached out to Zingano on a legislative bill to create a pension fund in California for MMA fighters, Zingano was all ears.
“She’s a big part of it right now, and she wanted me to be a big part of it,” Zingano said Wednesday on The MMA Hour. “Her and her mom, we all talked and figured out how to be the female voice of this. I felt honored and excited.”
On Monday, Zingano did her part by testifying in favor of the bill, formally known as AB 1136, which creates a retirement benefit for fighters who schedule between 12 and 14 fights in the state and vests when they turn 50.
The bill, which funds the benefit with a $1/ticket tax on MMA events promoted in California and merchandise sales, unanimously passed the California Senate’s Committee on Business and Professions. It could soon receive a general vote on the assembly. If it passes, it then goes to the governor’s desk to be signed into law. (The bill will not apply retroactively to older fighters, meaning only those who fight after it is signed will benefit.)
Here is Zingano’s testimony, which she posted on her Instagram account.
Zingano hopped on a plane to California after talking with Rousey and her mother, AnnMaria De Mars, who serves as a commissioner on the California State Athletic Commission.
“We have some very personal things that connect us, being some of our life experiences, and I think there’s a mutual respect there,” said Zingano of her relationship with Rousey. “It’s always been something very cool there.
“With all of her fights before, there was this gameplan of being a bully to them, but she threw me off by never being rude to me. She’s only had my back, and I’ve always only had her back.”
It didn’t hurt that Zingano truly agreed with the premise of the bill, which was to create a small measure of a safety net for professional fighters. Boxers have enjoyed the benefit since 1982, when the California legislature voted to create a pension fund that set aside money from a tax on tickets. The average payout, according to the LA Times, was $17,000 per boxer, though that figure greatly increased for California-based stars.
“I’ve been around since the beginning, and I’ve had the crazy fights and the fights where I get injured, and I’ve had the crazy life outside the octagon and had to make everything work,” Zingano said. “I’ve had the feelings of being supported. I’ve had the feelings of being alone. All of that, so I feel like I’ve noticed all spectrums of this.”
The perils of a career in professional MMA make Zingano wary of recommending the sport to young people. She said the retirement benefit would at least provide a counterbalance to the challenges physical and financial that fighters face in and outside the cage.
So far, she’s detected “offense and defense” from promoters wary of a change in the way business is done; the bill will impact a promotion’s bottom line by taxing an event’s live gate. She hopes that at the very least that business interests don’t get in the way of the benefit to fighters.
“All of us fighters have been sitting back and saying, ‘What’s going to happen?’ A lot of different things to be progressive in fighting have been scary to do because you don’t know what the backlash is going to be, and you don’t know if it’s going to help or hurt,” she said. “It feels like a fight, even when I was speaking Monday with the senate, I felt very nervous. It felt exactly when you go into a fight – you have one chance to do everything right, and if you don’t, there are obviously consequences. ... I think it’s going to be the beginning of some really good things for fighters coming up.
“If we could make it what we’re trying to make it, which is just a completely supported sport, where you’re actually looked at and treated like a professional athlete, it could be a good idea for people to do this sport.”