Cat Zingano finally gets to make her Bellator MMA debut this weekend.
“Alpha” will face Gabrielle Holloway at Bellator 245 on Friday night. Zingano’s debut has been a long time coming; she last fought in December 2018, against Megan Anderson back in the UFC. The end that night came early via toe poke, something of a fluke loss in a fight many had been looking forward to. While eye pokes from fingers are penalized, toe pokes are not.
It might not be how Zingano, a former bantamweight title challenger in the UFC, wanted to close out her time with the promotion. But it has led to a new opportunity, and potentially another shot at gold.
That Anderson fight came at featherweight, which is where Zingano will be competing in Bellator. The only promotion at the moment which can boast a fully developed 145lb weight class for women.
“I feel refreshed. I feel like it’s a great new opportunity,” Zigano told media outlets during the Bellator 245/246 media day this week. “I’m coming here to bang. I’m ready to turn it all up and turn it all on, and do what I need to do to be successful.”
Calling her journey a “crazy road in this entire sport,” Zingano appeared ready to close the door on her UFC history.
“As far as stuff with the UFC, it’s a closed chapter. I’m grateful for all the marketing that went into me, I’m grateful for all the opportunities, to have fought for a title, fought some of the best women in the world and beaten some of the best women in the world,” she said. “A lot of experiences there, a lot of growth and learning. It prepares me for this next chapter in a way I’m excited about too.”
The reality was that in the UFC, Zingano was going to have to try to float between weight classes, because the promotion never bothered developing the 145lb division. While a chance at two belts was alluring, the strain on her body was immense.
“I used to fight at 125 and I was gigantic. I’m pretty sure I almost died a couple times making weight. It made it natural to go up to 135,” Zingano recalled, looking back on the early part of her caeer.
With age, and bodies getting denser, she continued, “it’s harder to cut weight over and over again.”
“I think with the longevity of the sport and what I love about it and what I want to do here, it made sense to go up [to featherweight], because I was still a really big bantamweight too,” she noted. Given that she walks around quite big between camps, Zingano is on the money with that statement. She tends to be 165 to 170lbs outside of fighting, she stated. Which makes dropping to featherweight far less stressful than a cut to bantamweight.
For the UFC, however, featherweight was the Cris Cyborg show. Now, it’s all about double-champ Amanda Nunes. There’s no division, really just three fighters (Felicia Spencer and Megan Anderson, and the champ), plus the odd one-off fight. Bellator, on the other hand, has invested in the 145lb weight class. Cris Cyborg. Julia Budd. Zingano. Arlene Blencowe. Amanda Bell. Sinead Kavanagh. Olga Rubin. A half-dozen other names.
It’s Cyborg, who also jumped ship from the UFC, and perhaps Budd that many see Zingano eventually meeting in the Bellator cage. But while Zingano envisions a division where anybody could fight anybody, “for me personally, everything is about that fight Friday night,” she said, refusing to look past Holloway.
That said, it’s difficult to ignore the landscape. Julia Budd is working her way back to Cyborg. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where Cat Zingano doesn’t fight one, the other, or both.
“I don’t know why we would want to not have to face each other,” said Zingano, who admitted to watching Budd since before she was involved in MMA. “Look at that girl’s abs!” was her first reaction to the former Bellator champ. “[Budd]’s a beast, and she knows what she’s doing in there. She was strong and big, right when I noticed her was around the same era that I noticed Cyborg. As a young fighter at the time, I’m looking at both of them as like ‘I want to eat that, I want to fight that, I want to be there.'”
It’s no longer a pipe dream. “It’s cool that it’s not necessarily just a thought or an exciting idea of mine, but now there’s potential,” Zingano said. The feeling, she added, is as if “it’s a matter of time.”
Bellator 245 takes place this Friday, September 11 at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT. The event airs live on Paramount Network.