Cat Zingano is almost ready. Her mind, her body and her spirit are beginning to work in unison again, the way they did when her life was perfect. She’s not there yet, but she’s close.
It takes time. For eight months – ever since her crushing loss to Ronda Rousey at UFC 184 in February – Zingano has been taking time to regroup and heal herself, mentally and physically. The carousel she was riding had spun so fast she needed to stop.
And so she did. Since February, she’s been resetting her life, not so much because of her 14-second defeat to Rousey but because she wanted and needed a break to work on making herself whole.
“I’m still here,” she said. “This was a really good thing to do for myself, to give myself the time. I’m watching the results with my body, I’m watching the results with my spirit and my personal life. I’m excited that I gave myself this gift.”
Zingano, the No. 2-ranked women’s bantamweight, intends to return to the Octagon, but probably not before 2016. She’s in no rush. As much as she wants to erase the memory of losing to Rousey, she won’t return until all her parts are functioning properly.
She had planned to take this break anyway, even if she had won. Given all that she has dealt with – especially the suicide of her husband, Mauricio, in 2014 – it was overdue.
“These last couple of years have been a lot,” she said. “Everything kind of got thrown at me and I was forced to adapt under pressure. My plan was that I had to get through all this, I can’t take a break, I have to keep grinding and get through. The end goal was to beat Ronda and then take a break and kind of deal with life and what my new normal was with my son.
“Obviously I didn’t beat Ronda, but I still needed to regroup.”
There’s hope in her voice. She talks excitedly about all the changes she’s taking on -- mixing her MMA training with yoga, trail running and hiking; going through counseling with her son Brayden, 9, to cope with the loss of Mauricio; writing about the ups and downs of her life, and her plans to publish a comic book, with herself as the heroine, next year.
A new and improved Alpha Cat? That’s what she’s pointing toward.
“It’s just to have other avenues so I can feel happy and not feel the stress of the things that have happened,” she said. “I’ve decided that I’m going to start writing about the things that have gone on in the past with in my life. I’ve also decided to start a comic book that has my perspective and the way I see things but with a lot of imagination -- do it in a creative way where I can express it without words.
“It’s about me and the way I see things, kind of how my imagination works when I’m going into fights. In the beginning, it was just something that I wanted to do creatively, and then I started thinking, how many other people think and feel this way? I’ve been a comic book fan since I was a kid, and art is something that inspires me. I thought of putting something together and expressing how I feel and seeing how other people feel and if it’s relatable.”
Zingano has also opened herself to muscle activation technique, a process in which weaknesses in her muscles are analyzed and corrected through manual stimulation. A friend, former NFL player Bo Scaife, introduced her to the technique.
“I never actually believed in this stuff,” she said, “but I went in, and within two visits I was feeling so much better. So I’m stoked about it. They stimulate my muscles and tune me up every week after all the different stuff that I do to myself (in training).”
Eventually, when she’s ready, Zingano will resume training for another fight. More than anything, she wants desperately to come back from her defeat to Rousey and prove she can be a champion.
But until she does, it remains a lasting, agonizing memory.
“It’s something that’s on my mind all the time,” she said. “I think about how I want to get out there and fix this huge blemish on my career. I’ve accomplished a ton in this sport, I’ve accomplished a ton in my life in a lot of sports. A big part of my motivation is that I want to get back because I know I have everything it takes to be a champion. I know I have everything it takes to beat Ronda and be the best in the world. It’s just going out there and doing it.”
But she won’t take on another fight until her mind and body are operating at optimum speed. When will that happen? Zingano doesn’t know.
“I don’t want to go out there all stressed out and crappy,” she said. “I don’t want to feel unhealthy or give myself any excuses. I want go out there feeling my best so I can put in my best performance and walk away from it knowing I did everything I could and implemented my style and my will in all the different ways I’ve evolved in this sport. It really bothers me that things went the way they did. I can’t wait to fix it, but I want to be smart about it.”
There are no regrets about what happened, she said, even if it ended quickly. Zingano rushed Rousey, threw a knee and went for a takedown. But it was reversed, and almost before she realized what had happened, she tapped out from a straight armbar.
It remains Zingano’s only loss in 10 MMA fights.
“I feel like everybody has gone out there and kind of waited to see what Ronda was going to do and then reacted to it,” she said. “I’m like, screw that. I’m going to start this fight. I’m going to go first. We’re going to go at my pace. This is the approach I’m going to take. No one’s taken it before so how do we know it doesn’t work?
“I put my throat out there. Ten out of the 14 seconds I was doing pretty good, but then my arm got twisted up, we were in a tangle and I got tapped. Now I have that to go off of. I know exactly what it feels like. I put my hands on her, I’ve experienced her energy. It’s all perspective. It’s something I can put into the knowledge of what I need to do to fix it.”
Zingano will be an interested spectator when Rousey defends her title against Holly Holm at UFC 193 in Melbourne, Australia, next month. She gives Holm a fighting chance if she can avoid being taken down.
“I’ve sparred with Holly before, and she has super heavy hands,” she said. “She’s fast and she’s calculating. If Holly can keep it standing, she’s got some weapons there.
“I see Ronda testing herself. I can see her wanting to stand up to that challenge. If I were fighting a stand-up fighter, I would set myself some goals in the match to see what happens. I would want to beat them at their own game. I don’t know if Ronda is that way or not, but if I were fighting Holly, how much more awesome would that be to win the fight beating someone at what they’re good at?”
Zingano will be waiting. Whether she gets first shot at the winner remains unknown, but the next time she fights, she’ll be ready -- in mind and body.
“As soon as I know, everyone will know,” she said. “I want to go into my next fight good and happy and balanced. That’s when everyone’s going to see me being the best fighter I can be.”
Michael Martinez is a longtime sports journalist and former staff writer at The New York Times, the San Jose Mercury News and FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @ByMMartinez