An emotional Cat Zingano was in tears on the walk to the cage for her first UFC fight, she admitted she was scared of opponent Miesha Tate, and she feels the same about her opposing coach on the upcoming 18th season of "The Ultimate Fighter," UFC women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey.
But Zingano (8-0 MMA, 1-0 UFC), who stopped Tate (13-4 MMA, 0-1 UFC) with strikes in the third round during The Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale on Saturday, isn't ashamed about it. In fact, she said, it makes her a better fighter.
"I think to say you're not frightened going into a fight, there's a border between being cocky and being confident," she told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com
) following her FX-televised main-card bout, which took place at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. "I like to be confident, absolutely not cocky, and I like to have that healthy fear of my opponents. It keeps me on my toes. It keeps my camp relatively stressful for me, but it makes me continue to always be really hard on myself and always strive for the best. I always start strong and finish stronger.
"I hate when I leave the gym knowing I could have done something more."
With her win, Zingano will serve as a head coach opposite Rousey (7-0 MMA, 1-0 UFC) on "TUF 18." As officials announced Saturday, the long-running series will move from FX to the soon-to-launch FOX Sports 1. UFC programming will anchor the channel's prime-time slot on Wednesdays. The channel changes from SPEED to FOX Sports 1 on Aug. 17, and "TUF 18" debuts Sept. 4 at 10 p.m. ET.
For the first time ever, "TUF" will feature female head coaches, as well as a coed cast in the Las Vegas "TUF" house. For Zingano, the first mom to fight in the UFC, it also means one thing: a happy son.
"The first thing I did after the fight was go and call my son, and he asked me how I did," she said. "I told him that I won, and he was like, 'So we get to go to Vegas? They have a lot of swimming pools there, right?' I was like, 'Yeah, we get to go to Vegas.' He was like, 'That means you finally get to fight Ronda Rousey, right?' I was like, 'Yeah, we get to fight Ronda Rousey.'
"It's just surreal. It's a really good feeling, and this is exactly what I wanted, and it's happening exactly the way I expected – well I guess not the way I expected, but things are happening the way they should, and it just feels great."
A lucrative pay-per-view title fight will follow Zingano's coaching duties. While overcome by emotions on her walk to the cage to fight former Strikeforce champ Tate, the stakes are going to be even bigger against Rousey.
But for Zingano, who went from a virtual unknown to one of MMA's most recognizable female fighters in a matter of months, Saturday's UFC debut will always hold a special place in her heart.
"It was just really surreal," she said. "I was overwhelmed, definitely, by the opportunity. I knew I would be excited. I knew that it was going to be amazing. But I don't think I had any idea how much it would impact me from the inside out. It just felt great. It just felt really, really special for me tonight. This moment will be hard to top."