(This story appeared in today’s edition of USA TODAY.)
There was a moment in Cat Zingano‘s UFC debut this month when she decided she was done getting beaten up.
It came shortly after the horn sounded to end the first round, when her opponent, former Strikeforce champion Miesha Tate, pushed off Zingano’s face to get back to her feet.
“That was an insult to me, my family, my training camp and everything I sacrificed to get there,” Zingano told USA TODAY Sports and MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com). “After that, I wanted to make sure she remembered me on her face by the time the fight was over.”
Two rounds later, Zingano (8-0 MMA, 1-0 UFC) achieved that goal. She battered and bloodied Tate (13-4 MMA, 0-1 UFC) with knees and elbows, forcing a referee stoppage midway through the third round and sealing a dramatic comeback victory.
Zingano became the first mother to win a UFC fight, a feat the 30-year-old said she didn’t fully appreciate until the fight was over.
“I think being a mother definitely gives me an advantage,” said Zingano, who added that the birth of her now 6-year-old son, Braden, was part of what drove her to pursue her passion for combat sports. “I wanted to do something with my life that he could be proud of, something that would show him the importance of having something you’re passionate about.”
That’s a sentiment fellow UFC bantamweight and Olympic wrestling silver medalist Sara McMann can relate to.
McMann (7-0 MMA, 1-0 UFC) won her UFC debut last weekend in UFC 159 in Newark. Her 4-year-old daughter, Bella, watched eagerly as her mother took down German striker Sheila Gaff (10-5-1 MMA, 0-1 UFC) and pounded her into a first-round TKO stoppage.
“To her, it’s just like, ‘There’s Mom doing what she does,’” McMann said.
After the fight, McMann remarked on how surprised she was at her lack of nerves for her UFC debut. In her role as a mother, however, things are rarely as simple.
“I can be at peace with my career much easier,” she said. “I know what I’m doing there, and I know what I need to do. … But as a mom, you never know if the choices you make are the right ones. It’s harder because there’s no clear right answer.”
Take the lengthy, grueling training camps MMA fighters endure, for instance.
They often mean sacrificing family time, which is exactly what Zingano was thinking about when Tate used her face to get up.
It’s also why it might have been the worst mistake Tate made all night.
“To call myself a fighter is to be selfish at times,” Zingano said. “It makes me resent my opponent. That’s motivation I can tap into. When I think about protecting my son and fighting for him, that’s a big threat in a fight. If I can go there, it makes me unstoppable.”
For complete coverage of UFC 159, check out the UFC Events section of the site.
(Pictured: Sara McMann)