Cat Zingano (Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog)Cat Zingano: Phoenix from The Ashes Aidan O'Connor October 1, 2014 Spotlight For a brief moment at the UFC 178 post-fight press conference, Dana White paused as he faced the dilemma of selecting the next contender for Ronda Rousey’s women’s bantamweight championship. With Cristiane ‘Cyborg’ Justino scheduled to make her bantamweight debut under the Invicta banner in December, the final three-way conundrum pitted Gina Carano’s nostalgic appeal, and Bethe Correia’s forged path through the Four Horsewomen, against the undefeated streak of Cat Zingano. With the decimation of Amanda Nunes earlier in the night, it was Zingano that won out. Now, ‘Alpha’ returns to the MGM Grand with the bout slated to take place on January 3, 2015 at UFC 182: Jones vs. Cormier. Ronda Rousey vs Cat Zingano has a fascinating narrative that can not only bring eyes to the women’s bantamweight division, but also MMA in general. Its emotive qualities make the fight easy to invest into among casual fans, with the two ladies experiencing such drastically different paths to UFC 182 that virtually any personality can relate to some aspect of the fight’s dynamic. Cat Zingano’s appearance at UFC 178 leaves a fresh impression of her in the mind of UFC viewers that transcends simply being an aggressive finisher. Her ability to endure the top game of Amanda Nunes for much of the first round, only to return the favour in round two before raining enough elbows to finish the bout in the third reinforces Alpha’s ability to overcome obstacles. It is this triumph over adversity that has come to define Zingano in the last twelve months. Denied a chance to star on The Ultimate Fighter 18 by cruel injury, somewhat similar to her returning counterpart Dominick Cruz three seasons prior, Zingano has since traversed the lengthy rehabilitation of two knees following surgery and stem cell treatment. One benefit of Zingano facing Nunes, instead of jumping straight into a title fight, was the confirmation that she did not appear constrained by her injuries. We saw the same explosiveness, the same desire to aggressively engage opponents without tentative reservation or fear or reinjury. While Rousey represents a significant step up in competition, we now know that Zingano’s strength and Muay Thai striking – the very qualities that brought her to title contention – give the Colorado native a fighting chance. There is also the personal tragedy of Zingano losing her husband to take into account. It is something I debated mentioning in this piece, and certainly not something for the UFC to market in promotional material, but among the most enthusiastic MMA fans who are informed of Mauricio Zingano’s passing, the tragic episode is a further testament to the strength and courage of the new number one contender. Zingano’s sensational return in spite of various troubles eclipses the clichéd underdog story. Her ferocity inside the Octagon, aptly summarized by not one but two DDTs on Saturday night, is paired with a polite, somewhat shy, and egoless demeanour on the microphone. The combination creates a ‘character’ so likeable that even Ronda Rousey has admitted she cannot muster the same resentment as she has shown towards previous opponents. On the opposite side of the poster, Rousey’s star has risen even higher since Zingano was sidelined by injury. The champion’s Ultimate Fighter stint – love it or hate it – made her showdown with Miesha Tate must-see viewing. Rousey also diversified into Hollywood with movie and television appearances, while continuing to dispose of other top contenders in Sara McMann and Alexis Davis. Rousey’s opportunities have contrasted Zingano’s restrictions; her desire to hold onto the title juxtaposes Zingano’s wish to seize the strap and take it “back home to [her] little boy”. These contrasts develops the fabric of an intriguing story made all the more absorbing by the undefeated records of Zingano (9-0) and Rousey (10-0) respectively. When the pair finally square off on January 3, some 371 days after they were supposed to meet, it will certainly be a tale of two artists.