Performance Flashback: Alpha Cat Zingano

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 09: Cat Zingano prepares to walk to the Octagon to face Julianna Pena during the UFC 200 event on July 9, 2016 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Todd Lussier/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

What’s a Zingano piece without a few cat puns?

“Alpha” Cat Returns

Coming off the first two losses of her career, former title challenger “Alpha” Cat Zingano will be fighting for redemption against undefeated Brazilian grappler Ketlen Vieira at UFC 222.

A standout high school and college wrestler with ten years of professional fighting experience, Cat is no stranger to adversity in competition. Injuries and losses take their toll, but nothing compares to the tragedy she faced when she lost her husband in 2014.

The first mother to compete in the UFC has always brought drama and excitement to the cage, making her a fan favorite and a women’s bantamweight staple.

There is no doubt that those aside from “hardcore fans” are going to associate Zingano with her 14 second armbar loss in her title bout against Ronda Rousey.

To fully appreciate how (p)awesome Alpha Cat really is, let’s look back to her wild UFC debut against eventual champion Miesha Tate.

Zingano vs. Tate TUF 17 Finale, 2013

This was actually the UFC debut for both women. Tate was crossing over from the amazing and unfortunately defunct Strikeforce organization, where she had been the bantamweight champion. A come from behind win against media darling Julie Kedzie put her back into contention, Tate still eyeing a rematch with Rousey, the lineal owner of her title.

Zingano entered the bout 7-0 off her debut win at Invicta FC against current bantamweight top contender Raquel Pennington. Tate was the bigger name, she had more than double the experience, and many felt she was the more promotable entity.

The odds makers knew however, that this was going to be a war. The odds closed with the two women neck and neck, Zingano gaining some steam as the lines closed. This turned out to be an accurate metaphor for what happened next.

Flawed Fast Starters’ Claws Collide

Miesha Tate has a nasty, enduring habit of starting each fight the same way. That being, sprinting towards the middle of the octagon and throwing with her hands down.

Lucky for her, Cat Zingano has had her own struggles with fight IQ. Against the fighter who leans heavily on her takedown game, Zingano planted her feet, and waited for the right moment to throw her own right hand, hard, with no setup.

While this moment rivals CM Punk‘s opening sequence on “How to get double legged 101”, it did not spell doom for the Alpha Cat. What ensued was a beautiful, high paced scramble for top position off a Tate takedown attempt.

Tate goes bodylock, Cat uses a whizzer to roll through to her base, Tate gets height and lands in half guard, Cat transitions immediately to the deep half and comes out the back door, getting back to her feet. This all happens in the first 15 seconds of the fight.

A Tail of Two Fights

In the first half of the fight, Cat fought hard in every position in this way. The problem was the same from the opening bell, her feet were planted and she froze every time Tate advanced. On numerous occasions she let Tate back her up to the fence and ate hard, albeit sloppy, combinations.

These were the positions Tate was able to use to get clean takedowns and establish her dominant top game. It wasn’t until halfway through the first round that Zingano “woke up” and actually started to offer her own offense, which was hands down brawling while standing in place.

Round two started with Cat taking crazy risks, throwing naked body kicks and running jump knees from the opening bell. This led to more of the same, Tate eventually passing to mount and raining down punches.

The Momentum Shift

Miesha Tate sunk in both hooks from the back, but was harmlessly rolled over to the bottom guard position. For the first time in the fight, Cat Zingano had top position.

She planned to make the most of it.

Tate attempted to keep her grappling momentum with an attempted leglock, but the halfhearted hold exposed her to dangerous Zingano ground and pound. On one leg, Cat began putting dents in the leg of Tate with horrific elbows from the top position, convincing her to let go.

For the rest of the round Cat punished Tate with ground and pound, throwing in a legitimate pimp slap for good measure. The pace had become too much for Miesha Tate, forced to play defense, completely stuck on bottom.

Cat Pounces

It’s worth noting that Miesha Tate has documented her terrible experiences cutting weight over the years. A picture circulated around UFC 200 of Tate laying melted on the ground, completely depleted. From the beginning of this fight, her features were sunken, her nose appeared larger, it wasn’t hard to tell she had lost a lot of water in the days leading up to this fight.

Against an opponent who will give you absolute hell for three rounds, that’s a recipe for disaster.

The top position was clearly the key. Heeding her corner’s advice, Zingano opened the round with a low double leg, tipping Tate over by the ankles. The decision to use this technique is telling, basically you reserve low shots for taller opponents, or someone you know will be standing straight up. Cat was well aware that Tate was fading, she had complete confidence she could blow through her on that shot.

If Tate’s offense ended halfway through the second round, her defense ended in the beginning of the third. Zingano was merciless, a never ending stream of furious ground and pound left her opponent bloodied and desperate with little more than two minutes left in the fight.

Tate stood up, and the second her fingers left the mat she was introduced to Zingano’s signature techinque: brutal, nasty knee strikes. Smelling blood, Cat poured on the ground strikes to force another standup, this time she pushed Tate while conducting her assault.

Three more knees and an elbow put Tate on her face, and Cat walked off like the badass she is. Embraced by her coaches, Alpha Cat let out a primal scream.

The Comeback: UFC 222

The three round war with Tate is likely the greatest fight in women’s bantamweight history. Much like in her comeback ground and pound finish of the champ Amanda Nunes, Cat Zingano’s fighting spirit was on full display. We all learned about her unbreakable will, her drive to win, and her penchant for action.

After this weekend, fans will either be declaring the 35 year old “back”, or writing her off as a contender forever. You can watch Alpha Cat Zingano battle Ketlen Vieira at UFC 222 on Saturday, March 3rd, opening the PPV card.

War Alpha Cat.

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