Forget Gina Carano, Cris Cyborg, and Holly Holm; Cat Zingano deserves Ronda Rousey fight

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A four-person rotation has a clenched grip on current women’s MMA headlines. UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, of course, followed by Gina Carano, Cris Cyborg and Holly Holm. As it’s situated, that’s one champ and three potential challengers. The thing the final three all have in common is that none of them is an active UFC fighter. That means they’re all on the outside looking in, and somehow, that makes them fascinating or intriguing as potential opposition for Rousey, it seems.

Over the last few weeks, since the moment Rousey stopped Sara McMann at UFC 170, there’s been plenty of speculation about what might be next for her. Carano hasn’t specifically addressed facing Rousey, but recently publicly said she was interested in returning to fighting after a five-year absence. It’s obvious to assume she’s not taking a temporary leave from a blossoming Hollywood career from anything other than a huge fight. Cyborg has been campaigning for the fight in the media for weeks. And Holm’s team has done all it can to stir up interest and drive up her asking price. The idea is to pair up one of those fighters with Rousey in the late summer.

The one name that seems to be continually, almost comically overlooked from the conversation is the actual No. 1 contender in the division, Cat Zingano. The 31-year-old Coloradan is the only one that actually deserves to fight Rousey next. If anyone else gets pushed ahead of her, it’s for business reasons over merit.

Let’s remember that a year ago, Zingano fought Miesha Tate with two prizes on the line: a chance to coach The Ultimate Fighter, and a title shot against Rousey.

Both Carano (left) and Cyborg want in on the Rousey sweepstakes.

To date, she’s gotten neither, and that’s a lot to lose. To be fair, part of that was not the UFC’s fault. Zingano won the match in a third-round TKO in one of the best fights of 2013, but unfortunately, suffered a knee injury shortly afterward that ruled her out of coaching TUF. That allowed Miesha Tate to step into the role. But on the night that Rousey and Tate stamped an expiration date on their feud, Zingano was there, watching live and anticipating her place as the next in line. She had still been promised her shot at the belt, after all, and just before the post-fight press conference began, Zingano walked into room, where I spoke to her for a few minutes before Rousey arrived.

"I’ve had this long timeout," she told me then. "I’ve been running in a hamster wheel going nowhere. I just really want to get going. I really want to get fighting. I want to get moving forward."

Zingano was so excited about the possibility of fighting Rousey until moments later, when like the rest of us, she learned that UFC president Dana White would allow McMann to leapfrog her. The decision was professionally disappointing for Zingano, who said she’d be willing to fight with a blown ACL in order not to lose her opportunity. 

Only two weeks later on Jan. 13, Zingano would face a personal tragedy when her husband Mauricio committed suicide. After privately grieving his loss, Zingano recently returned into the public eye in an interview with Inside MMA, where she said she would be ready to resume her career by fighting Rousey in the summertime.

So now the question is whether the UFC will make that fight. Of the three outsiders, it seems that Carano would be the most likely to vault the group because her level of fame would give the promotion the opportunity to catch lightning in a bottle and receive major media attention without forcing her to go through a tuneup fight and risk losing before she gets to a title shot.

White seems hellbent on keeping Cyborg out of the UFC, at least until she proves that she can make 135, which is an interesting stance given that Carano has never made the weight, either. Holm seems to be pricing herself out of the conversation, and to be fair, she isn’t that well known out of combat sports circles so her signing doesn’t promise a major pay-per-view butyrate. In addition, she also injured her arm in her most recent fight and may not be ready in time for the likely August date.

And then there is Zingano. At least to Rousey’s credit, she is ready to honor the UFC’s pledge for them.

"I still feel that Cat Zingano is next," she said during a recent media interview in Dallas. "I feel like she is the No. 1 contender, and I saw a statement from her management saying that she’ll be ready in June."

The UFC is expected to line up Rousey’s next fight for the summer, somewhere near the August 15 release of her next movie, The Expendables 3, so she has time to do promotion for both the fight and the film. Now four months away from that date, time is beginning to run short, which explains why the UFC is meeting with Carano, why Cyborg is making her push and why Holm’s team is lobbying about her value. The trio have all accomplished plenty on their individual resumes, but this decision shouldn’t be about anything other than what the UFC promised Zingano a year ago. She missed out on TUF, she was passed over for her title shot. Now it’s time to give her what’s hers.