Nerves not a factor for Zingano's UFC debut

According to Dana White, women's contender Cat Zingano is still in line for a crack at the title. Isaac Hinds

Walking into an arena for the first time as a UFC competitor can be unnerving. No previous event can fully prepare a fighter for what he or she is about to experience.

As the fighter emerges from the locker room, she is greeted by a large, vociferous crowd, of which only a small number of onlookers are aware of her previous MMA accomplishments. All the success that fighter has achieved prior to this moment matters little to the UFC faithful.

The newcomer is viewed as a curiosity, at best, but not a true mixed martial artist until she has chalked up a significant victory inside the Octagon.

So the UFC newbie -- veteran or not, champion elsewhere or not -- is again in a position of proving her worth.

That's not all: There is also the matter of what a victory in a UFC debut can do for that fighter's career, especially from a financial standpoint, including greater endorsements and other high-profile opportunities beyond the MMA world.

UFC is the big time, and success there can result in unimaginable rewards. Now that's pressure -- the kind that can buckle the knees of even the most seasoned fighter.

But there will be no prefight jitters Saturday night for Cat Zingano when she makes her UFC debut. Self-doubt has never been an issue for her, and it's not about to arise now. The UFC fight-night environment will differ from any she has experienced, but it won't cause Zingano to suddenly lose her nerve or focus. There is no fear running through her veins. She knows what's at stake Saturday night against Miesha Tate and fully embraces the opportunity.

Zingano has worked too hard to get to this point and isn't about to squander it. Besides, she's already had a tiny taste of what it's like inside the arena on fight night during a UFC-promoted event.

"It's exciting to fight in UFC," Zingano told ESPN.com. "I went to watch the Ronda Rousey-Liz Carmouche fight and got a really good feel for the energy in the arena and how bright and exciting it is. I got to experience that, and I think that's a really good thing.

"Going into UFC is an incredible opportunity. But every fight I go into is just a fight. It's just me versus them, and my will versus their will, and who's going to break and who's going to get their hand raised."

Zingano vows that she will not be the one to break at the TUF Finale 17 in Las Vegas, where Tate, a former Strikeforce champion, will be standing across from her in a UFC women's bantamweight title eliminator with the winner getting a shot at the champion Rousey.

This being the most important, highest-profile bout of her career won't cause Zingano to break out in a cold sweat or question whether she has bitten off more than she can chew. Zingano approaches this fight the same as any other -- it's her against another fighter who is determined to knock her head off, if necessary, to get a win.

That's the fight game. Zingano has competed seven times professionally. On each occasion, she has walked away unscathed.

There is no reason, in her mind at least, to doubt that Saturday night will be any different -- UFC debut or not. Zingano is foremost a fighter, and the UFC community, especially Tate, is about to find out just how good of a fighter she is.

"Miesha Tate has no area in which I feel she is stronger than me. I'm better than her on the feet, on the ground," Zingano said. "I am very disciplined in my conditioning. I'm very comfortable fighting from any position -- off my back or on top -- my footwork, everything. I'm a few levels above her.

"I have something she's not going to be able to handle in every scenario. I'm very confident in everything that I bring into the cage.”

While she has demonstrated above-average fighting techniques in each bout -- submission, knockout and decision wins dot her résumé -- Zingano isn't ready to call herself a full-fledged professional mixed martial artist.

There are still a few more lessons she would like to complete. But as has been the case thus far, Zingano expects to continue receiving high marks from her instructors.

"I'm not going to lie to myself," said Zingano, who is 7-0. "I'm always going to be true to my roots. I'm a wrestler and have been a wrestler since I was 12 years old. That's always in my back pocket. If ever I get into a sticky situation that I'm uncomfortable with, I have [wrestling]. But I'm not satisfied with having just one style, being one-dimensional. I'm a student who wants to learn everything.

"I consider this [period] my college education. These are the years I could have been at a university getting my Ph.D. That means knowing everything about the human body in order to be able to function as a successful [fighter]. I know that I have good skills as far as my ground game, but I want to test myself in uncomfortable situations where I'm not as well-rounded as some of these other girls. If you beat somebody in an area they are good at, that feeling that is irreplaceable."

That could mean besting Tate on the ground. Tate is among the best wrestlers in women's MMA. But Tate also possesses solid submissions and striking.

In many ways, Zingano and Tate are mirror images of each other. The biggest difference is that most MMA fans are familiar with Tate.

But they are about to get a heavy dose of what Zingano can do in the cage. She won't be an unknown entity in UFC circles after Saturday night.