Cat Zingano latest biggest challenge for Ronda Rousey

LOS ANGELES -

Stop us if you've heard this one before: Ultimate Fighting Championship superstar Ronda Rousey is facing the biggest challenge of her mixed martial arts career.

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We don't blame you for getting such a statement with cynicism. After all, the 2008 Olympic judo medalist and current UFC women's bantamweight champ has encountered several opponents hyped as the greatest threat to her dominance, and she seems to solve each successive challenge easier than the last one.

But really, though: Rousey (10-0) hasn't faced an opponent quite like fellow unbeaten Cat Zingano. The two square off in the main event of UFC 184 on Saturday night, Rousey's homecoming bout at Staples Center.

A whirling dervish of activity, the 32-year old Zingano, of Broomfield, Colo., doesn't have one particular superlative skill. Rather, Zingano (9-0) seems to boast an endless reservoir of willpower, which has served to make her a fan favorite.

In her UFC debut in April 2013, Zingano had two bad rounds against former Strikeforce champion Miesha Tate, then rallied for a vicious third-round TKO finish, roughing Tate up with hellacious knees in the clinch. In Sept. 2014, against Amanda Nunes in Las Vegas, Zingano once again went down in the first round and was very nearly finished. But she roared back in round two for a violent victory, sealing her title shot.

Between those performances, Zingano navigated her way through several setbacks. The victory over Tate was supposed to earn Zingano a shot at Rousey, but Zingano tore her knee in training and required surgery. Things went from bad to worse several months later, when Zingano's husband. Mauricio, committed suicide.

Rousey has never been afraid to drop a trash-talking quote in order to sell an extra pay-per-view or two, but she's made it clear she has the utmost respect for the way her opponent has handled adversity.

"Cat's resilience is one of the things that impresses me the most about her," Rousey said. "I think that's what's really gotten her most of her fans. It's not just the way she fights, but the way she endures."

Rousey's resume is well-established at this point. None of her 10 fights have gone the distance. Nine have been finished inside one round. Eight opponents have fallen victim to her signature armbar submission. Her 2014 adversaries, Sara McMann and Alexis Davis, lost in a combined 1 minute, 22 seconds.

So the fight's big strategic question is obvious: Can Zingano, the slow starter and big finisher, ride out Rousey's vaunted early assault and turn the tide in her favor? Despite the mutual respect, here's where their opinions diverge.

"I'm different," Zingano said. "I know that, she knows that, the whole promotion knows that. I have things to offer she hasn't seen before and I just have to be me, I just have to do me."

"I'm going to beat her," Rousey said. "I like her, she's a cool chick, but when we get in there she's not going to be anything different than my other opponents."

Last week, the California State Athletic Commission announced both Rousey and Zingano passed random, pre-fight drug tests. Headliners from the UFC's previous two events flunked such tests, as UFC 182 main eventer Jon Jones tested positive for cocaine metabolites and UFC 183 star Anderson Silva popped for multiple performance-enhancing drugs.

The evening's co-feature bout puts the spotlight on a woman who has been touted as a future potential Rousey foe. Albuquerque's Holly Holm (7-0), a former three-weight class world boxing champion, meets veteran Raquel Pennington (5-4) of Colorado. Holm has won six of her seven MMA bouts by knockout.



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