It’s happening a lot later than it was supposed to, but Saturday’s main event matches current UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey against undefeated challenger Cat Zingano. Rousey and Zingano were supposed to fight after Zingano defeated Miesha Tate two years ago, but the fight was delayed due to injury and tragedy in Zingano’s life. First, Zingano tore a knee ligament, forcing her out of both the title fight and a coaching spot on The Ultimate Fighter. That was bad enough, but nothing compared to the tragedy that was the suicide of her husband afterwards.
In that context, Zingano’s fight against Amanda Nunes was particularly inspiring. Nunes did what Nunes does, aggressively attacking Zingano in the first round, landing a takedown and a sustained barrage of strikes. Zingano’s subsequent comeback, third-round TKO stoppage, and emotional post-fight interview were a great representation of just how mentally tough she is. Zingano is a fighter who is very easy to root for, at least from my perspective.
But now Zingano has been matched against Rousey for the title again, and it’s a daunting task to say the least. Zingano’s slow starts against both Nunes and Tate don’t bode well against a finisher as efficient as Rousey is, a point that’s been echoed by quite a few people leading into this event. With Rousey’s vastly superior clinch game, improved boxing, and phenomenal grappling ability, there’s no denying that she’s the favorite to defend her title successfully. The only question is: how big of a favorite is Rousey?
I think there are reasons to see Zingano as a more plausible challenger than just about any of Rousey’s past opponents. The biggest reason is the durability Zingano displayed in her past two UFC fights. I believe that if Rousey is to be defeated, it’s likely to be in the later stages of a five-round fight. I have my doubts about Rousey’s ability to keep up her hyper-aggressive pace for five rounds, although this has never been tested before. The closest anybody has come is Tate, who managed to survive to the third round against Rousey in their rematch. For what it’s worth, Rousey was still going strong at the beginning of that round, but I’m curious to see how Rousey would hold up in an even longer contest.
Another reason is Zingano’s training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, something that could allow her to survive Rousey’s myriad armbar attacks. There have been moments where Rousey’s opponents have capitalized on her willingness to sacrifice position in order to attempt the armbar… but of course, Rousey’s guard game is typically just as dangerous as her submissions from anywhere else. The point isn’t that Zingano will out-maneuver Rousey in a grappling match, just that she could possibly hang in there for a while.
Zingano’s ability to survive, coupled with her ability to finish opponents with strikes, is enough for me to give her a better chance of defeating Rousey than any of Rousey’s past opponents. But that’s not saying much – I didn’t see a path to victory for Alexis Davis, or Sara McMann, or Liz Carmouche, or even Miesha Tate.
More often than not, having to endure a storm to come out victorious is a negative indicator instead of a positive one. It’s much better to steamroll opponents, or win lopsided decisions, than it is to win trials by fire. In a battle between a steamroller and a survivor, the steamroller usually wins. While it’s possible that Zingano could take Rousey into deep waters and win by TKO stoppage, or win due to a sudden well-timed strike, it’s much more likely that Rousey’s frenetic pace and superior technique will cause her to throw Zingano down and win by either TKO or submission in the first round.
Pick: Ronda Rousey by submission