(This story appeared in today’s print edition of USA TODAY)
When it comes to opportunities for female mixed martial arts fighters, the one awaiting the winner of Saturday’s fight between Miesha Tate and Cat Zingano is about as big as it gets.
Both are signed to the UFC, the world’s biggest fight promotion. That alone is significant, because most female fighters, even highly ranked ones, receive meager paydays elsewhere.
But last month, UFC President Dana White called both fighters, who had already started their training camps. He told them UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey had received one of the high-profile head coaching spots on the upcoming 18th season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” the UFC’s long-running reality-competition series.
He also said the winner of the Tate (13-3 MMA, 0-0 UFC) vs Zingano (7-0 MMA, 0-0 UFC) fight, which is part of The Ultimate Fighter 17 finale on Saturday (FX, 9 p.m. ET), will get the other coaching spot and a lucrative pay-per-view title fight against Rousey, an Olympic judo medalist who won the UFC’s first female fight in February.
But even before the UFC president’s call about TUF, Zingano thought of her bout with Tate as a chance to show off and claim top contender’s status in the UFC’s new 135-pound women’s division.
“Dana knows talent when he sees it, and he picked me for a reason,” the undefeated fighter told USA TODAY Sports.
Tate, a former titleholder in the UFC’s since-shuttered sister promotion Strikeforce, simply wanted a rematch with her rival Rousey, who took her Strikeforce belt more than a year ago.
“You put me in there with whoever is going to get me that rematch the fastest,” she told UFC officials.
Now, the stakes are even bigger. A win not only would raise either woman’s visibility by giving her a coaching slot on TUF, which uses 32- or 16-slot tournaments to identify UFC prospects, it also would bring her a featured fight against Rousey – already one of the UFC’s biggest PPV draws – at a major event this year.
“TUF 18,” which begins filming this summer for an expected September debut on FX, would expose either Tate or Zingano to a weekly TV audience north of a million viewers. Additionally, the show’s new twist, which will have male and female fighters living in the same house for the first time, is bound to boost the ratings.
Both fighters are doing their best to ignore the possibilities that await. Tate, however, isn’t convinced Zingano is doing a good enough job of that.
“I think Cat is getting a little over-excited,” she said. “She’s already talking about wanting the belt. You’ve got to get past me first, and I’m not going to make that easy on you.”
Zingano counters that she’s as focused as ever.
“I’m not ahead of myself at all,” she said. “I’m very confident in my skills. I don’t care what she thinks about me. I’m going to go out there and fight my fight and control the ring the way I always do.”
The Ultimate Fighter 17 finale, which concludes the current season of the reality series, takes place at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.
In addition to the “TUF 17” tournament final, bantamweight contenders Urijah Faber and Scott Jorgensen meet in the night’s headliner.
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