Cat Zingano couldn’t hide her emotions after her July win over Marion Reneau, and why would she? Previous to the three-round victory in Boise, Zingano had gone through the worst stretch of her professional career, losing three in a row dating back to 2015.
This was her triumphant return, and you could see the joy in her face and hear it in her voice. The only question left after that performance was how long that euphoria would last.
“That fight was great and the whole point was getting me back in the win column,” she said, five months after the final horn sounded against Reneau. “I realized that it’s a step but it’s not the destination, so I’m excited about it. I’m excited about the fact that I made a ton of right decisions which ended with me getting the confidence and the skills that I needed to go in there and be successful again. But I know that fight’s not the end. That fight was just part of my goal and my journey. You take the good days and bad days and you put them in your back pocket and count them, but you’ve got to keep looking forward. So what I’m focusing on doing here is not trying to let it get me too up and too excited. I’m humble and preparing the best that I can.”
So, in other words, by the time “Alpha Cat” made it back to the locker room, she was over it and looking forward to the next fight, which is a Saturday bout against Megan Anderson.
“I had so much relief from it, so the excitement really came from what I could show myself and the fact that I’m still very much in it and I still can figure it out,” she explains. “So yeah, I was excited, but what I was excited about mostly was to just see myself again. That, I’m still happy with. I see that in practice every day now and it makes me calm.”
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It wasn’t just snapping that losing streak that has Zingano in a better place than ever these days. It was getting through three hard rounds after changing around her training camp and then getting injured in the early stages of the bout. Yeah, Zingano may not have had the greatest run in the last couple years, but she was always there. On July 14, she proved it.
“I was incredibly nervous,” she said of the lead-up to the bout. “I went into the fight and I had normal wear and tear from training camp, but right at the beginning of that fight, I got hurt. I had some trouble going on with one of my arms and I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to hit the way I want. So what other tools do I have? I can grapple her and try to slam her on the ground as hard as I can, and maybe that’s gonna be the equivalent of a good hit. So it was trying to put together all the other tools that I have and seeing what I can do with them to make the fight go my way the whole time, and it worked out.”
Now it’s a new day for the 36-year-old in more ways than one, the main reason being that when she faces Anderson, she will be doing it at 145 pounds for the first time. It’s an interesting move, especially considering that as the last person to beat bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes, a 2019 rematch would be a nice bout for Zingano to aim for. But for now it’s featherweight. Just don’t call it a permanent move.
“I want to go back,” she said of the bantamweight division. “My work isn’t done there. I’m here to see where I’m at with all these girls. I want to know at the end of this career that I’m walking away knowing where I stood with everyone everywhere in this whole hierarchy of bad ass women that are on this platform. But for some reason, this popped up and felt right. The timing’s right, my will is right, it happened, and I welcome it.”
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And as far as Zingano is concerned, while no training camp is easy, take away the cut to 135 pounds and this is one happy Cat.
“I’m a big bantamweight and it’s a struggle to get down to 135 for me, but I’ve been cutting weight since I was 12 years old and my body knows what to do,” she said. “It’s not too happy about it anymore (Laughs), but it comes off regardless, and I perform regardless. There’s a challenge in all of this to me to understand what it feels like to train healthy and to be in a place where I’m not counting calories the whole training camp; where I’m actually able to triple that energy that I get to keep by being nourished, and put it towards learning new skills or lifting much heavier. Even being able to play a little bit with the cardio, it’s been nice.”
Nice will not be the adjective used to describe Zingano on fight night with Anderson, though, and as the intensity remains unchanged, so does her desire to push the envelope when it comes to the “arts” part of mixed martial arts.
“I’m still looking to meet my full potential, being able to do everything I want to do when I want to do it,” Zingano said. “I feel like I think outside the box as a fighter and sometimes we all get set in these rules of fighting, which take us away from who we are as an individual. Obviously there’s a ref and that ref tells us what we can and can’t do, so within the confines of the rules, I want to know how to win all these fights and I want to see what I can do with my entire body against these people and have a barrage of ways to do it. I want to dance my own dance and dance out of rhythm and find all different types of avenues of how I can make this hard and creative and all of that. To me, fighting and martial arts are beautiful and I want to get back to the originality and individuality of the traditions of each of these disciplines that we bring into this sport.”
Can you hear it? Cat Zingano is excited about the next chapter of her career. You should be too.
“This brings a whole new set of nerves because the girls that I’m competing against are bigger, but I get to get bigger too, and that’s pretty bad ass,” she said. “I feel solid and steady and strong, and all these right decisions just build on my confidence. And confident me is unf**kwithable.