When a fight that’s the caliber of the no. 4-ranked women’s bantamweight squaring off against a fast-rising contender finds its place as the featured preliminary bout of the evening, you know that fight card is stacked. Such is the case with UFC 200 this weekend and the featured preliminary bout between Cat Zingano and Julianna Peña.
This is Zingano’s first fight in more than a year, after her self-imposed break following her quick loss to Ronda Rousey in 2014. Peña completed a sabbatical of her own after spending nearly two years on the sidelines thanks to a gruesome knee injury. She won her first two fights following her return last year, and the winner of her matchup with Zingano will go a long way toward determining the next contender for the UFC women’s bantamweight title.
Strengths: Simply put, Zingano is a deadly striker. Her Muay Thai is second to none, and her devastating knees, hands and kicks put her on the path toward her first UFC title shot in 2014. She used her striking to stage an improbable comeback against Miesha Tate in 2013, which was supposed to lead to her first title shot before Zingano was sidelined by a knee injury. She returned in 2014 and used her striking and ground game to defeat Amanda Nunes and finally claim her shot at the gold.
Zingano also possesses an extremely huge will to win and just flat-out refuses to ever give up. As previously mentioned, she was losing both her fights to Tate and Nunes before finding the resiliency to come back and win. Whereas some fighters would just turtle up and live to fight another day, Zingano gave it everything she had and fought tooth and nail to come back and win both of those bouts. It’s a cliché, but Zingano truly has a “never say die” attitude. That, coupled with her elite striking and Muay Thai, makes her a very dangerous fighter.
Weaknesses: However, her will to win can also be a hindrance. One of the other knocks on Zingano is that she’s a slow starter, as evidenced by her initially being down early in her fights against Tate and Nunes. When Zingano faced Rousey for the women’s bantamweight title, she decided to bum rush Rousey in hopes of getting an early advantage. It was a fatal error, as Rousey reversed Zingano’s momentum and locked in an armbar for a 14-second submission victory.
Hopefully in her sabbatical, Zingano learned how to formulate a gameplan, stick to it and not let the opinions of others affect her style. Zingano is a very emotional fighter. But as we saw against Rousey, fighting with emotion can be your friend, but it can also be your biggest enemy.
Strengths: Peña might be the hardest hitter in the women’s bantamweight division. She has the hardest fists and has two out of her first three fights in the UFC by knockout. She hits hard and hits often and is looking for the finish. She even went toe-to-toe with noted puncher Jessica Eye in her last fight and battered her way to a decision victory.
Peña’s toughness is also well known, so it’s not likely she’s going to back down from anything Zingano throws at her.
Weaknesses: Peña hasn’t exactly faced a murderer’s row since she began her UFC career. She won season 18 of “The Ultimate Fighter” by defeating Jessica Rakoczy, whose overall record is 1-5 (that’s right. She’s only won one fight her entire career). Peña’s toughest fight to date has probably been against Milana Dudieva, who boasts a record of 11-4. Eye’s loss to Peña was one of three in a row. Zingano will represent a tremendous step up in competition for Peña, and it’s fair to wonder if TUF winner is ready for the unique challenge that Zingano provides.
If you’re a fan of striking, I think this will be a contest you enjoy. Between Zingano’s Muay Thai and Peña’s fists, there should plenty of opportunity for action. Neither fighter goes down easy either, so it wouldn’t be too much of a shock if these two batter each other for the full 15 minutes. Peña’s looked very impressive since returning from injury, and it remains to be seen how Zingano’s sabbatical affected her as a fighter. For now, I will take experience over youth and pick Zingano to follow getting her life back on track with getting her career back on track.
Winner: Zingano by unanimous decision