Rousey-Zingano title fight headlines UFC 184 at Staples Center

Unbeaten Ronda Rousey expects her biggest challenge from unbeaten Cat Zingano

Two years ago this week, Ronda Rousey made her Ultimate Fighting Championship debut, shrugging off opponent Liz Carmouche's early choke attempt and the challenge of making women's mixed martial arts fights relevant.

Rousey delivered her famed armbar submission before the first round was over, and she and the sport were on their way.

In a sign of her immense popularity, Rousey is once again the headliner Saturday night in the UFC 184 fight card at Staples Center. Rousey (10-0) defends her 135-pound women's bantamweight title in a stiff test against No. 1-ranked contender Cat Zingano (9-0)

The co-main event is also a women's fight, with former boxing champion Holly Holm making her UFC bantamweight debut against Raquel Pennington, who called this "a very monumental weekend for women's MMA."

Rousey called the female-heavy card a "wise investment" by the UFC, saying it's "a very reasonable possibility that I'll fight Holly down the line.

"The level of athletes coming to women's MMA provides a lot more interesting matchups than the men," Rousey said. "Holly's the first boxing champion seriously doing MMA. …

"It gets back to the roots of MMA, to see which discipline rules over the other."

Rousey's judo background and fierce drive — she was a 2008 Olympic judo bronze medalist — have served her well.

She has posted nine first-round victories. Her average fight time of 4 minutes, 17 seconds shatters the average length of a UFC bout, which is nearly 10 minutes. Rousey needed only 66 seconds to beat Sara McMann, a former Olympic silver medalist in wrestling, and 16 seconds to whip Alexis Davis in July.

Rousey, 28, admits, "It can't be just me, I need a dance partner," and foresees a far more complicated challenge from Zingano, 32.

"She has a calm I really haven't seen … given everything she's been through in her life outside of fighting. I really feel she's one of those people that is impossible to intimidate, so I don't even try," Rousey said.

Zingano has persevered through personal tragedy.

Her best fight was a third-round technical knockout of former title challenger Miesha Tate in April 2013.

Then her estranged husband, Mauricio Zingano, committed suicide in January 2014 at age 37, leaving Zingano to cope with the heartbreak, her recovery from a torn left knee ligament and the raising of her son.

Zingano returned to the octagon in September, stopping Amanda Nunes by strikes in the third round.

Now, she's close enough to envision a UFC belt being wrapped around her waist.

"It represents so much — a lot more than I can put to words," Zingano said. "It's a big deal. It's been a long road and didn't happen overnight for me. All these things — everything that's gone on — I just feel like there had to be something great that came from it."

Said Rousey: "She's the most well-rounded, strong-minded opponent I've ever faced. I've never gone to the ground with a Brazilian jiujitsu black belt before. Her first discipline is wrestling and everyone knows her for her striking."

Rousey's quick wins contrast with Zingano's tendency to start slow in her bouts. Not surprisingly, the champion is a 9-1 favorite, according to the MGM Resorts sports book in Las Vegas.

"I just want people to be on their feet every single time I'm out there," said Rousey, whose ring walk to Joan Jett's "Bad Reputation" is one of the sport's best moments. "They have no idea what's going to happen, but they know it's going to be great."

Rousey's fight comes at a time when the UFC is reeling after positive drug tests by some of its top fighters. Light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones tested positive for cocaine before his Jan. 3 bout, and former UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva twice tested positive for steroids — once before and once after his Jan. 31 fight.

UFC said it will introduce by July a rigorous anti-doping strategy.

Rousey said she was left "heartbroken" by the Silva episode, but has emerged as the most significant UFC fighter pushing for reforms.

"You can't change your honor for the accolades of any accomplishment," Rousey said. "Someone can get hurt, someone can die. There is a limit to what someone can take. I'm so glad the UFC has finally realized … it's about preserving the sport."

Rousey, who is expected to earn more than $1 million for her bout Saturday, is satisfied with her pay. But she insists that other UFC fighters "should get paid more than the ring girls," a jab at model and UFC ring girl Arianny Celeste.

Rousey, though, beat Celeste to Sports Illustrated's swimsuit edition earlier this month in a spread photographed by legendary Walter Iooss Jr.

"I never wore makeup until I turned 21, because I was bartending and needed tips," Rousey said. "The agreement me and my mom came up with was that whatever you're not willing to show in public, you won't show in a magazine."

UFC 184

When: Saturday, pay-per-view card begins at 7 p.m.

Where: Staples Center.

Tickets: $124 and up.

Television: Pay-per-view, $49.95.

Fight card: Ronda Rousey (10-0) vs. Cat Zingano (9-0) for Rousey's bantamweight belt; Holly Holm (7-0) vs. Raquel Pennington, bantamweights; Jake Ellenberger (29-9) vs. Josh Koscheck (19-8), welterweights.

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