Amidst a cloud of uncertainty, Megan Anderson could earn a title shot on Saturday while Cat Zingano looks to continue her comeback at UFC 232.
If you had asked people about “Alpha” Cat Zingano at the beginning of the year, they might have told you they thought she was done. In the midst of a two fight skid, Zingano was coming off a nearly two year layoff and came back only to be handled by upstart Ketlen Vieira in March. At 36 years old and having suffered well-documented injuries, it appeared the former title challenger was fighting for her UFC job when she faced Marion Reneau in July and finally got back in the win column.
The bantamweight picture appeared very set at the time. Amanda Nunes was expected to face either Vieira or Holly Holm, and Zingano was not on the radar at all despite holding a win over the champion back in 2014. But when Megan Anderson needed an opponent, “Alpha” took the challenge of moving up to 145. While she carries the reputation for being a handful for anyone, she is literally up against her biggest challenge to date. The 28 year old Anderson is considered one of the most powerful athletes at 145 and Zingano will be without the ability to use her trademark physicality in the fight.
A win, however, makes the bantamweight picture very interesting. Holly Holm has recently been scheduled to face Aspen Ladd. Ketlen Vieira remains sidelined with an injury. A Ladd upset could open up the door for Zingano to make a complete 180 in a year and earn a title fight in 2019. Without many options, Zingano would make as much sense as anyone for the UFC to book against the bantamweight champion.
For Megan Anderson, the future is much more uncertain. The UFC is devoid of featherweights besides herself and champion Cris Cyborg. The most recent season of The Ultimate Fighter, intended to help build the weight-class, has instead seen all of its participants already drop down to bantamweight. Cyborg has also expressed that going into this fight, she has still not renegotiated a new UFC contract. According to the champion, under her current deal she has only one more fight after Saturday that would take place early next year. After that, she has not shied away from admitting that she is open to fielding other offers or possibly pursuing another avenue such as boxing.
Anderson had her UFC debut spoiled in June in losing handily to Holly Holm, but Saturday could be the redemption she needs. A victory on Saturday night, shortly before Cris Cyborg faces Amanda Nunes, would be the perfect opportunity to generate the attention she needs to secure a title shot.
It can’t be understated, Anderson’s future in the UFC is not set in stone as things currently stand. A Cyborg departure could mean the folding of the weight class, and it’s not impossible to imagine the UFC sending Anderson back to Invicta to finish her deal or even waiving her altogether and allowing her to enter free agency. With Julia Budd locked into a Bellator deal, Anderson was the biggest name in 2018 for the UFC to bring in to fight Cyborg for the belt. Through no fault of her own, the UFC could be parting ways before such plans come to fruition.
Stylistically, Zingano’s grappling could be the decisive factor. “Alpha” fights by putting on forward pressure, exchanging in the pocket and wearing on opponents. Holm exposed the development Anderson still needs on the mat, and Zingano will undoubtedly be looking to test her there. She should work behind the jab and other straight punches to close the distance and initiate the clinch where Anderson’s considerable reach is nullified.
For Anderson, the key will be to keep Zingano at the end of her strikes. While the threat of the takedown will be there, she should look to unleash with powerful kicks to the leg of Zingano to hamper her mobility. Removing Zingano’s ability to effectively shoot in will open up Anderson’s striking attack where she generates incredible power through her long frame.
A win for Anderson sets up an intriguing 2019 where she could possibly be the last UFC fight for Cris Cyborg should the Brazilian retain her belt on Saturday. A Zingano victory will put her on the short list for a title shot depending on the calendar or at the very least set up a match with a top bantamweight contender next year.