LOS ANGELES (AP) — By many measures, a historic event will happen when Ronda Rousey steps into the octagon with Cat Zingano in the main event of UFC 184 on Saturday night.
Two unbeaten mixed martial artists are facing off for a UFC title belt for just the third time in the promotion’s 20-year history. Rousey (10-0) is the most accomplished fighter in the history of the women’s sport, and she sees the toughest test of her career in Zingano (9-0), a formidable contender finally getting a long-delayed title shot.
“She presents a lot of unique problems that I’m going to have to solve,” Rousey said Thursday. “I think I’m capable of it, but it’s definitely the most challenging fight I’ve ever had to prepare for. Most of the women I’ve fought couldn’t stand up to Cat, but I think I’m capable of doing it.”
Not everybody is sold on UFC 184’s historic potential, however — and that’s because Rousey is just too good.
Rousey is a 12-to-1 favorite at Staples Center in some oddsmakers’ eyes. It’s tough to find many experts who believe Zingano’s grappling and jiu-jitsu can weather Rousey’s ferocious judo skills and armbars for five minutes, let alone a five-round championship fight.
Yet Rousey’s dominance is the reason women’s MMA has skyrocketed in prominence over the past two years, and Zingano is eager for her shot at the champ. After a career filled with steady growth through adversity, Zingano carries a quiet confidence into her second fight since a knee injury and her estranged husband’s death.
“I’m something different,” Zingano said. “I’m something unique, and I think I can bring her a different challenge than she’s ever seen before. We’ll see how she handles it, but I’m very confident I’ll win.”
After the recent injury postponement of Chris Weidman’s middleweight title defense against Vitor Belfort, Rousey and Zingano are the big Hollywood show when the UFC finally ends its curious two-year absence from the largest U.S. media market that allows MMA.
The UFC canceled a mediocre card at Staples last August when main-event fighter Jose Aldo was injured. The promotion hasn’t staged a show since February 2013 in Southern California, the home base of innumerable prominent fighters — including Rousey, who lives beachside in Venice.
Dozens of actors, showbiz honchos and celebrities are expected to be cageside, giving a boost of mainstream prominence to a sport that emerged from a rough 2014 with a solid January of compelling fight cards.
Rousey also headlined the last show in Southern California, winning her first title defense against Liz Carmouche at UFC 157 in the promotion’s first women’s bout. UFC President Dana White ended his promotion’s long-standing aversion to promoting the women’s sport when he saw the star potential of Rousey, who has become an actor, a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model and a global face of MMA in the two years since that debut in Anaheim.
Zingano should have had this shot at Rousey two years ago when she upset Miesha Tate for the chance to coach against Rousey on the UFC’s long-running reality show. But Zingano tore a knee ligament in training, and Tate stepped in for a headline-making stint on the show and a subsequent loss to Rousey at UFC 168.
Rousey and Zingano have a healthy mutual respect, with both fighters speaking politely about each other for several weeks. That’s not always the case in fight promotions for Rousey, who nursed a long-running feud with Tate throughout their rivalry. Rousey also has occasionally threatened to rip off an opponent’s arm and throw it at her corner.
Rousey’s intense personality still showed up this week in Thursday’s ceremonial staredown following a public appearance. Rousey and Zingano rushed toward each other at center stage, Zingano greeting Rousey with fists raised, until UFC officials moved them apart.
Rousey also exchanged verbal jabs through the media this week with Arianny Celeste, the UFC’s most prominent ring-card holder. Rousey is “not impressed with the job” held by the so-called Octagon Girls, while Celeste called Rousey a bully.
“I save the theater for in between fights,” Rousey said. “In the cage, I try to be as efficient as possible, and that’s what I’ll try to do against Cat.”