With a combat career already filled with firsts, the history in the making that is Ronda Rousey’s career now officially has an opponent to co-author the next chapter in women’s mixed-martial-arts chronicle.
With Rousey sitting cageside along with Glendale Fighting Club trainer Edmond Tarverdyan and friend and fellow GFC trainee Marina Shafir, bantamweights Miesha Tate and Cat Zingano made their Ultimate Fighting Championship debuts Saturday in Las Vegas at “The Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale,” thrilling the Mandalay Bay crowd with Zingano winning the back-and-forth barnburner via third-round technical knockout.
There was plenty at stake, as Zingano earned a shot at Rousey’s UFC women’s bantamweight title “at the end of the year,” according to Tarverdyan, and a spot coaching the next season of “The Ultimate Fighter” thanks to the dramatic victory that took UFC Fight of the Night honors.
“Regardless of who I’m coaching against, it’s such a unique and historical situation — which seems to be coming up a lot these days,” said Rousey, 26 — the first-ever woman to sign a UFC fighter’s contract, the company’s first women’s champion and a winner in February against Liz Carmouche in the first-ever UFC women’s bout — on Saturday in a post-fight media scrum. “It’s gonna be awesome regardless.”
Saturday’s bout was just the second women’s fight in UFC history and the victory was had by the first mother to ever grace the Octagon, the 30-year-old Zingano. Zingano made additional news as she teared up on her way to the Octagon and didn’t hesitate to admit that the emotions and magnitude of the event affected her.
“It’s surreal, it’s a really good feeling,” Zingano said at Saturday’s post-fight press conference. “It’s exactly what I wanted and it’s happened exactly the way I expected. Well, I guess not the way I expected. But, things are happening as they should and it feels great.
“Every single one of these moments was a new moment for me. I’ve never experienced the things that I’ve experienced this week going through the UFC and getting ready for a fight here. Like I said, it’s an experience that will be hard to top. It was a really good one.”
Tryouts for the “The Ultimate Fighter” took place in Las Vegas on Monday, with 50 women and 219 men taking part, according to MMAJunkie.com. Tryouts took place in front of UFC President Dana White and other UFC personnel, with future coaches Rousey and Zingano not in attendance. Tarverdyan said taping is set to begin in late May and the show will begin airing Sept. 4 on Fox Sports 1, a new sports network set to launch in August. The show, like every season, will crown its tournament winners in a live finale, which is yet to be announced, and Rousey and Zingano will later fight for Rousey’s 135-pound title. A time and place have yet to be announced for the title bout, but as aforementioned, Tarverdyan said it will likely be “the end of the year.”
“I’m really excited to be one of the inaugural programs of the new channel,” Rousey said. “It’s a really cool position to be in. I don’t really know that much about the TV business, or anything like that, but it’s gonna be really cool. Everyone from FOX is really excited about Fox Sports 1. If ‘TUF’ is one of the first shows they’re having on it, it’s gonna be a really great channel.”
The show aired on FX the past two seasons and before that on SpikeTV. During the 15th season, Rousey appeared as the first-ever woman to be a guest trainer and also made an appearance in the recently concluded 17th season.
On top of being the first season to have women as coaches, the upcoming season will also feature 135-pound contestants in both the male and female divisions.
“I did quite a bit of coaching in judo before,” said Rousey, who has previously cornered Tarverdyan, Shafir and friend and fellow UFC fighter Cody McKenzie in fights. “I have some experience in it, but I also have the help of my own coach who has a lot more [experience] than me. I’m pretty much gonna be looking over my shoulder half the time, ‘So what am I saying right now?’. I’m gonna have a lot of great help.”
While no official announcement has been made as to either Rousey or Zingano’s coaching staffs, Tarverdyan will definitely be a part of Rousey’s team.
“She said, ‘What do you think?’ ... She said, ‘If you don’t do it, I don’t do it,’” Tarverdyan said. “I said, ‘Alright, I’ll do it.’ I want to do it, I just didn’t want to take time away from my other fighters. We’re gonna see how it works out.
“I’m there to do whatever she needs. I’m really excited.”
Tarverdyan, in addition to training Rousey and Shafir at GFC, also trains UFC fighter Manny Gamburyan, boxers Art Hovhannisyan and Gapo Tolmajyan and is currently leading the training of boxer Vic Darchinyan for his May 11 bout against Javier Gallo.
The upcoming season has drawn plenty of interest as to how the dynamic of having men and women living in “The Ultimate Fighter” house will play out. Tarverdyan, though, is confident that the most important aspect will be giving the fighters structure as to how things should and will be done from the beginning.
“I love the idea of it and I’d love to train a team like that, it’s very exciting,” said Tarverdyan, who added that with the limited amount of time that he will have with the fighters, the focus can’t be as much about teaching them new skills, but refining their current skill sets, game planning for fights, getting them in the best shape and giving them structure. “It’s gonna be good. It’s gonna be exciting. It’s gonna be different because there’s girls and guys.
“I think it’s our job as trainers to give them structure. Structure is everything.”
While Saturday served as a platform to lead into the next season of “TUF” and further grow women’s MMA in the UFC, it also served as an opportunity for Rousey and Tarverdyan to scout their competition up close.
“It kind of went the way I expected,” said Rousey of the fight, which ended a bit controversially, as Tate believed it was stopped too early and at least one of Zingano’s knee strikes that led to the stoppage came as Tate had her hand on the canvas, making it an illegal knee. “Cat looked a lot better at workouts. Miesha is usually the type that really fights above herself in competition, which is one of her better attributes. Miesha looked really good. I thought the fight was stopped maybe a little prematurely, but Cat looked amazing, too. I don't want to take anything away from her. She was lighting her up.
“If Miesha wants to complain the fight shouldn’t have been stopped, then she shouldn't have been in that situation in the first place. I was really impressed with Cat tonight. I saw a lot of things that were helpful, so I'm glad I came and saw it live. So yeah, I'm looking forward to 'TUF.' It's going to be cool.”
Tarverdyan was happy to be there live, as well.
Though neither him nor Rousey would quite divulge what they had picked up about Zingano, the longtime martial artist and striking coach said he saw quite a few helpful aspects of Zingano’s game.
“I picked up a few things,” Tarverdyan said. “It was an exciting fight.
“I’m happy I was able to be there to see them in person. I saw a few things, but I’m not gonna point them out. ... Ronda’s gonna be victorious. It’s gonna be fun.”
In addition to all the reality show histrionics and the history of the bout, it will pit the 7-0 Rousey against the 8-0 Zingano for a rare UFC championship fight between undefeated fighters.
“Technically, Cat has a better record than I do right now,” Rousey said. “She's 8-0. I'm 7-0. Who was it? Was it like Rashad [Evans] and Lyoto [Machida] who were the only two undefeated people fighting for a championship before? So this is something very uncommon and very special, and I'm happy to be a part of it. I always think of myself as the underdog regardless of what other people think.”