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Multilayered Cat Zingano emotional after UFC debut, bullish on Ronda Rousey

Zingano comes back to win by TKO over Miesha Tate in third round

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Cat Zingano celebrates her third round TKO of Miesha Tate after their bout at The Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale Saturday, April 13, 2013 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.

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Cat Zingano enters and circles the octagon before her fight against Miesha Tate at The Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale Saturday, April 13, 2013 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. Zingano won with a third round TKO.

TUF 17: Zingano vs. Tate

Cat Zingano pounds Miesha Tate with knees on her way to a third round TKO during their bout at The Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale Saturday, April 13, 2013 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. Launch slideshow »

TUF 17: Faber vs. Jorgensen

Urijah Faber catches Scott Jorgensen in a rear-naked choke to submit him in the fourth round of their bout at The Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale Saturday, April 13, 2013 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. Launch slideshow »

TUF 17: Gastelum vs. Hall

Kelvin Gastelum rejoices as he is the announced winner of a split decision over Uriah Hall to win The Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale Saturday, April 13, 2013 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. Launch slideshow »

TUF 17 Finale

Bubba McDaniel lands a kick to the midsection of Gilber Smith during their bout at The Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale Saturday, April 13, 2013 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. Launch slideshow »

Cat Zingano wiped away tears one second, and then used the same hands to bash Miesha Tate’s face in the next.

Zingano later opened up with a gut-wrenching remembrance of her mother’s death before closing her mouth to grimace at Ronda Rousey within a few minutes.

“There’s a lot of switches in me that get flipped,” Zingano said. “My day-to-day routine is a constant back and forth.”

UFC fans received their first taste of the mercurial Zingano Saturday night at Mandalay Bay Events Center. It was a savory one.

Zingano scored a third-round TKO victory over former Strikefore women’s bantamweight champion Miesha Tate in one of “The Ultimate Fighter” 17 finale’s headlining bouts. The second female bout in UFC history went down as the Fight of the Night.

“No question about that,” UFC President Dana White said.

It also earned Zingano an assignment as the challenger and rival coach of champion Ronda Rousey on the next season of “The Ultimate Fighter”.

As Zingano celebrated the biggest victory of her undefeated career at the post-fight press conference, Rousey sat stoic directly in front of her. Less than five yards away, Rousey rarely broke eye contact with Zingano.

If it was a ploy at intimidation, Rousey may have failed. Asked if she had anything to express to Rousey, Zingano stared one of the UFC’s highest profile fighters in the eyes without a hint of hesitation.

“Good luck,” Zingano offered.

Zingano is a ruthless combatant, but also a protective mother. She’s an unapologetic romantic, but also a steadfast assailant.

The producers on the forthcoming 18th season of “TUF” have quite the subject to explore. Saturday night could provide a valuable genesis for them.

Zingano was already tearing up by the time she first graced the arena’s screens for her walkout. By the time she reached the octagon, someone who didn’t know any better might have thought she was inconsolable.

Her eyes began to swell before taking any punches as Zingano circled around the confinement with her hand caressing the top of the fence. It was in this moment that Zingano started telling herself, “stop crying.”

“I was overwhelmed by the opportunity,” Zingano said. “I knew I’d be excited. I knew it would be amazing, but I don’t think I had any idea how much it would affect me from the inside out.”

The jitters may have affected Zingano early. Mixing up all of the strong points of her game, Tate won each of the first two rounds on two of the three judges’ scorecards.

Tate took Zingano down multiple times in the first round and unleashed ground-and-pound that sounded like someone stomping on concrete. “Cupcake” did more of the same in the second, but mixed in a few submission attempts with an armbar and a heel hook.

“I knew Cat was going to be an incredibly tough fight,” Tate said. “So did it surprise me that she didn’t go down? Did it surprise me she didn’t tap? No, I was expecting an all-out war for three rounds and that’s what we got.”

The decisive final round wasn’t much of a war, though. It was more of a purge by Zingano.

Zingano planted Tate on her back and fired artillery in the form of elbows and hammerfists. When Tate worked her way to her feet, Zingano blasted her with at least five knees.

The referee jumped in to stop the fight 2:55 into the round, which Tate protested but White — normally outspoken on topics pertaining to officiating — agreed.

Emotions welled up inside of Zingano again, who shared a few words on the excitement of getting to face Rousey before exiting the cage.

As soon as she arrived backstage — surely with Tate’s blood still staining her skin — Zingano got on the phone to call her 6-year-old son, Brayden, who was back home in a Denver suburb.

He asked how she did and Cat passed on the good news.

“So we get to go to Vegas,” Brayden asked about filming “TUF” this summer, according to Cat. “They have a lot of swimming pools there, right?”

Cat re-assured him that, yes, that was the case. Brayden had a second question.

“That means you finally get to fight Ronda Rousey,” he asked.

Cat responded yes, which felt “surreal”. Mother has long worked toward this moment, longer than son could ever realize.

Cat has strived for this even before she knew she was a fighter.

“My mom died in 2005 and I was on a pretty rough patch before she died,” Zingano shared. “When she did die, I promised her I was going to take my life to good things. I had no idea what I was going to do. I had no idea what I was talking about, just that I was going to make her proud and not to worry about me. It was OK to go.”

“My mom’s death definitely pushed me in a way where I wanted to have a positive outcome with my life. This is how it came to fruition. I’m here. I’m in the UFC.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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