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Zingano ready for the pressure

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A.J. Perez

A.J. Perez previously worked at USA Today, AOL and CBSSports.com, covering beats ranging from performance-enhancing drugs to the NHL. He has also been a finalist for an Associated Press Sports Editors award for investigative reporting. Follow him on Twitter.

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Cat Zingano has immediately tried to make amends after each fight in her short MMA career.

THE ULTIMATE FIGHTER

Jon Jones. Chael Sonnen. What more could you want? Relive all the action from TUF 17.

Not for losing, one thing she has yet to do seven career pro fights. It’s for something just as rare.

“The game plan usually stays outside the door,” Zingano told FOXSports.com. “The first thing I usually do after a fight is apologize to my coaches because I didn’t do one damn thing they told me to do. My instincts just take over.”

Zingano said that won’t change against Miesha Tate at The Ultimate Fighter finale in Las Vegas on Saturday — even with the high stakes. A victory means a spot as a coach in the next season of TUF and a bout later this year for the UFC women’s bantamweight title against champion Ronda Rousey.

Watch any of Zingano’s fights and it’s clear she likes to be the aggressor and keep her opponent close. Those attributes likely come from her wrestling background, a sport she took up at age 12.

“I was very much a student of the sport,” Zingano said. “I wanted to know everything, all the moves. It was the coolest thing I had seen. I started winning matches. Dads didn’t want their sons to face a girl. Coaches didn’t want to put any of their wrestlers up against me to be beaten by a girl.”

One of those wrestlers she came across in a scrimmage was three-time Colorado prep champ Leister Bowling, who told FOXSports.com that he’s never been in favor of mixed-gender wrestling.

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“In my mind, when you are wrestling a female, you are either going to be viewed as a bully or a wimp,” said Bowling, a wrestling coach on Season 16 of The Ultimate Fighter. “I decided I was going to be the biggest bully. When Cat came into our practice room, she called out myself and Burt Stringer, who also was a state champ. We were the best two wrestlers in the area.”

Things didn’t go well for Zingano that day. She even cracked a cheek bone, something Zingano didn’t cop to until years later.

“I didn’t want to just beat her up. I wanted to make her quit the sport,” Bowling said. “There was always something different about her. She didn’t quit. It was awesome to see.”

Zingano’s original plan was to pursue Olympic wrestling, a sport that made its debut for women at the 2004 Athens Games. She found her way to Kentucky’s University of Cumberlands. Knee injuries began to take their toll and after attending another college briefly she let go of her Olympic dreams.

Her re-introduction to combat sports came in 2007 when she entered a Denver-area Jiu Jitsu studio. That day she met what turned out to be her future husband, former Jiu Jitsu champ Mauricio Zingano, and found another calling: mixed martial arts.

“I already knew a lot about the ground aspects of MMA being a wrestler, but there was so much more,” Cat Zingano said. “There was kicking, punching and other things I wish I could have done as a wrestler. It really stoked my interest.”

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Zingano had been training a few weeks when Mauricio Zingano heard that a local promoter was seeking 125-pound women for an amateur fight.

“He didn’t want to let me do it,” Zingano said. “He said, ‘You don’t know any stand-up and you’re still learning the other basics.’ I just told him to show me what I need to know.”

She won that first amateur fight via TKO. Zingano turned pro in 2008, winning her first contest via arm bar. It would begin a trend as only one of her seven pro fights has gone the distance.

Bowling, currently one of her coaches, said that Zingano is quick learner and absorbs all the info thrown at her — even if she doesn’t always follow the strategy laid out for her. As far as her ability to coach, Bowling said the task won’t be easy in a house that will have both male and female fighters.

“I thought a lot about this,” said Bowling, who was a coach for Team Carwin on Season 16 of The Ultimate Fighter. “It’s going to be tough. The coaches come in and have an immediate impact on the fighters and not necessarily when it comes to just coaching. The coaches make the decisions and bring in their coaches, who are going to be more hands-on when it comes to training. I hope the guys can be open-minded and listen to Rousey, Cat or whoever else coaches.”

Zingano, 30, already knows a couple things about pupils not always listening to direction. She teaches MMA to men and women, and runs a boot camp at her husband’s gym.

She’s also the mother of a 6-year-old boy.

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