BROOMFIELD, Colo. -- It’s the biggest fight of Cat Zingano’s life. On Feb. 28, the graduate of Fairview High School will go head-to-head with the Ulitmate Fighting Championship women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey in a pay-per-view main event in Los Angeles.
“I’m definitely her most difficult tough risky opponent for sure,” said Zingano. “And in her mind. I don’t feel like there’s time to catch up to me. I don’t feel like there’s much you can do in a training camp to get to the experience and the drive and the grind that I have.”
A lot has changed since we started following the 32-year-old a couple of years ago. Cat’s husband, Mauricio Zingano, was also her coach. Her son Brayden usually joined them at practice.
In April of 2013, the first mother to compete in a UFC match beat Miesha Tate by TKO to earn a title shot against Rousey.
Things took a turn for the worst after, with Zingano suffering two major knee injuries.
“I had a torn ACL and meniscus in my right knee and in the recovery for that one, I tore my meniscus in my left, Zingano said. “So I didn’t have surgery in my second one, but I did have stem cell procedure that they harvested from my own body and that was the surgery. So yeah, it was a long road with these knees.”
But surgeries on her knees were nothing compared to what happened next. In January of 2014, Zingano’s husband was found dead near their home in Denver. Mauricio had taken his own life.
“I kind of disappeared, shut myself away from everyone for a while and really focused on myself and my son," Zingano said. “You know some things don’t have answers. He’s my best friend and we had a lot of problems and we had a lot of amazing times and it’s just such a complicated emotion to have. It’s a complicated situation to know how to feel. It’s rough. I’m pretty destroyed. I want some good to come out of all of this. At the end of the day, he’s an amazing person. He was strong and he just lost it.”
Zingano picked herself up and returned to the cage just eight months later. Specifically for her son.
“Trust me, I wanted to stay in bed," she said. "I didn’t want to do anything, but I have that kid looking at me. I want to give him opportunities that he deserves and I don’t know any other way to guide him, other than to show him.”
Amanda Nunes was the opponent, and Cat started off slow.
“I was very aware that he wasn’t there and I thought it was going to break me and I felt bad,” said Zingano. “And (Nunes) grabbed my knee and it was a very pivotal moment. When I got hurt on this timeline, it was really difficult in our lives and I was like, 'Don’t touch my knee. You don’t even know. Don’t touch that knee!'
"And I had to defend everything that I went though. Everything that my son has gone through. Everything that my husband has went through. I had to defend it and fight for it and it turned into a complete domination with me taking it all out right then and there and the byproduct is that win.”
A win that kept her undefeated at 9-0. Her son Brayden is still present in the gym.
“He’s a little shining star," Zingano said." You know I can’t believe how brave he is and how courageous he is.”
The next challenge doesn’t come close to what Zingano’s experienced. She won’t be the favorite against Rousey, but she doesn’t care.
“I don’t know when to quit," she said. "I have things I am meant to do and as hard as they may be, I don’t want to look back on my life and think about all the things that I could have done, should have done and would have done. I don’t want to live with a ton of regret and I want my son to be proud of me.”