Leslie Smith’s plan: Beat Arlene Blencowe at Bellator 233, title shot, face Cat Zingano

THACKERVILLE, Okla. – Leslie Smith has it all mapped out.

Eighteen months ago, that wasn’t the case. Things were uncertain. Smith (11-7-1 MMA, 1-0 BMMA), who has advocated for fighter’s rights, parted ways with the UFC right after Aspen Ladd pulled out of their UFC Fight Night 128 bout in March 2018. Shortly thereafter, Smith was picked up by Bellator.

Friday night, Smith will return for the second fight on her Bellator deal when she takes on Arlene Blencowe (12-7 MMA, 5-3 BMMA) at Bellator 233, which takes place at WinStar World Casino in Thackerville, Okla. The main card airs on Paramount and streams on DAZN following prelims on MMA Junkie.

“I’m thrilled and delighted to be where I’m at right now,” Smith told MMA Junkie on Wednesday. “I’m getting to fight for the second time in less than four months. What more could a fighter ask for? Rankings don’t always mean a whole lot, but they do when you’re trying to climb up them.”

One of the reasons for Smith’s excitement? Bellator’s recent additions of major WMMA stars Cris Cyborg and Cat Zingano. Smith, who fought Cyborg in the UFC, hopes to be able to fight both of them in the near future.

“I’m delighted to see Cyborg and Zingano as part of Bellator’s 145-pound division,” Smith said. “It is the best 145-pound division in the world. It’s the best and the deepest and exactly where I want to be. I think that both of those athletes bring so much to MMA in their own ways. I really hope that I get my chance to dance with both of them inside inside the cage.”

Smith believes with near-certainty her Friday night fight will be a number-one contender bout. Despite Bellator’s recent signing of Zingano, Smith still thinks she has a leg up on the former UFC women’s bantamweight title challenger.

“I think that after beating Arlene, that there is not going to be anybody else that is ranked in between the title fight and I,” she said. “I think Bellator has done a great job of being a little more merit-based than a lot of other promotions have been. I feel like they’re going to honor the trajectory a person moves through when they fight in the ranks consistently and win and get that opportunity for the title. I would love to fight with Cat Zingano, but I think that she probably needs a couple tune-up fights before she comes up against me. She has so much to offer Bellator and this women’s 145-pound division.”

Pros fighters react to Cat Zingano signing with Bellator MMA

A string of fighters from the world of mixed martial arts have reacted to the news that former UFC star Cat Zingano has signed a multi-fight deal with Bellator.

ESPN’s Ariel Helwani confirmed the news last night, with many fans believing it was inevitable following her release from the Ultimate Fighting Championship in the summer. During her time with the promotion, Zingano was able to put together a 3-4 record, although two of her victories did come against Miesha Tate and Amanda Nunes.

Now, as she prepares to wage war with some of Bellator’s finest female fighters at 145 pounds, the MMA community has taken the time to reflect on the news.

Cyborg’s reaction to this Zingano news will be of particular interest to plenty of fans who will be hoping to see the two square off somewhere down the line, perhaps even for the Bellator Women’s Featherweight Championship if she is able to dethrone Julia Budd in January.

Zingano last fought in the UFC’s Octagon in December when she lost controversially via eye injury to Megan Anderson. Ever since then it’s been clear to see that she is desperate to step back inside the cage, and now, she’ll get the chance for a fresh start with a new promotion in Bellator.

Bellator has slowly but surely been making a string of impressive free agent signings over the course of the last few years, to the point where some of their divisions are looking even more stacked than what the UFC has to offer. Either way, though, this is a big get for Scott Coker.

How do you think Cat Zingano will perform during her time under the Bellator MMA banner? Do you think we’ll see her battle Cris Cyborg down the road?

This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 10/30/2019. 

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Cat Zingano signs with Bellator

A few months after being released by the UFC, former UFC women’s bantamweight title challenger Cat Zingano has signed a multifight deal with Bellator.

ESPN’s Ariel Helwani revealed the signing on Tuesday, noting that Zingano is expected to compete in Bellator’s featherweight division. Her debut date and opponent are not yet finalized. Her signing with Bellator was heavily rumored ever since her UFC release.

Zingano issued a statement on the signing to ESPN soon after Bellator announced it. Here’s what she said.

“They asked me what would make me happy and motivated. I told them, then they came back with an even bigger number,” Zingano told ESPN. “Initially, can’t lie, I was struggling with making a decision only because my mind was fatigued, and I had a few things complete physically. I’m happy with how it came together. I can still accomplish the few things I had yet to accomplish in the UFC, just a different platform. I get to set brand new goals and do it on a whole new fresh blank slate. I get to start over, I get to reinvent, I get to go back to my roots if I want, too. I get to get excited and nervous for the new possibilities, and that makes my heart happy! These extra ten pounds will be just about as lovely as the fact I now get sponsors.

“I’m grateful for where I’ve come from and definitely look forward to where I’m going. I want to grow and create an even stronger Bellator. I’m committed to it. A motivated Cat is a dangerous Cat.”

Zingano also posted the news on her social media channels.

“Oh helloooo @bellatormma ladies, shall we dine or dance? #Bellator #mma #catzingano #featherweight #yearofthealphacat #meow”

Zingano was surprisingly released by the UFC in August. The 37-year-old “Alpha” has a 10-4 overall record in MMA, including a 3-4 overall record in the UFC. She holds notable victories over current UFC women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes and former UFC women’s bantamweight champion Miesha Tate. She challenged former champ Ronda Ronda for the belt in February 2015, losing by first-round submission.

Zingano immediately becomes one of the top contenders for the Bellator women’s featherweight championship, currently held by Julia Budd, who takes on Cris Cyborg in January 2020. Zingano likely needs to get one win in Bellator before getting a title shot.

Are you excited to see Cat Zingano fight for Bellator?

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Former UFC title challenger Cat Zingano signs with Bellator

Cat Zingano is the newest addition to the Bellator roster.

Zingano, a former UFC women’s bantamweight title challenger, has signed a multi-fight deal with the promotion where she will compete at featherweight. A promotion official confirmed the signing with MMA Junkie on Tuesday after a report from ESPN.

Zingano (10-4 MMA, 0-0 BMMA) was released from the UFC in August after an eight-fight stint with the promotion.

In her UFC debut at the The Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale, Zingano earned much attention for her “Fight of the Night” victory against Miesha Tate. Zingano won the bout with a third-round TKO, which set her up for a UFC 178 matchup with now-champion Amanda Nunes in September 2014.

After she defeated Nunes by third-round finish, Zingano earned a title shot at then-champion Ronda Rousey. The bout between Zingano and Rousey lasted a mere 14 seconds. In a wild opening exchange, Rousey rolled and submitted Zingano with her signature armbar.

From there, Zingano dropped back-to-back fights to contenders Julianna Pena and Ketlen Vieira, both by decision. In July 2018, Zingano picked up her first win in almost four years when she defeated Marion Reneau by unanimous decision at UFC Fight Night 133.

But in her most recent fight this past December, Zingano was defeated by Megan Anderson via TKO after suffering an eye injury. As Zingano attempted to dodge a kick by the 6-foot Australian, she caught a toe in the eye. The fight was stopped when Zingano covered up, unable to continue.

Zingano’s attempts to appeal the loss on the same grounds as a finger poke to the eye didn’t yield any success, leaving her with four losses in her past five fights, and just the one win for the 37-year-old in nearly five years.

At this time, no debut date or opponent has been announced for Zingano.

Bellator’s Scott Coker: Cris Cyborg will get immediate featherweight title shot

Cris Cyborg’s new Bellator contract was official as of Tuesday at 11:33 a.m. Pacific time, and the promotion already has big plans for her future.

If Bellator president Scott Coker gets his way, Cyborg’s promotional debut will be a title shot against current featherweight champ Julia Budd, who’s defended her belt three times.

“(Cyborg) definitely deserves it,” Coker told MMA Junkie.

The promoter clarified he hasn’t hammered out specific plans with Cyborg (21-2 MMA, 0-0 BMMA) or Budd (13-2 MMA, 7-0 BMMA), who most recently fought in July. He plans to meet with the former UFC champ this weekend when Bellator 226 takes place in San Jose, Calif.

After Cyborg’s release from the UFC, Coker’s priority is to keep her active.

“She was fighting once a year,” he said. “That’s what she’s complaining about. We can definitely put her into the cage, I want to say, two or three times a year.”

Coker added Cyborg’s contract also allows her the opportunity to box professionally, increasing her chances to earn steady paydays.

“MMA is going to be her first commitment, but if she wants to box, I’m all about it,” Coker said. “But we’re going to be a part of it. You might see her boxing on DAZN a couple times a year or once a year.”

In a video announcing her new contract, Cyborg said Bellator has “a lot of girls at 145 pounds” and added she wants to be the first female fighter to hold four different titles in the same division.

Coker said Bellator has at least four potential opponents for Cyborg. He said contract negotiations are currently underway with Cat Zingano, who was released by the UFC after a move to the featherweight division.

Cyborg’s tenure with the industry leader was fraught with conflict both behind the scenes and in public. Coker said her time with Bellator will be far more productive than her previous promotion.

“We’re going to keep her much more active, and two, they’re not in the 145-pound weight class business, and we are,” he said. “So to me, it’s something I think that we’ve been growing this weight class for the last two, three years, and Cyborg is a great addition to it.

“She will have girls in her weight class to fight, whereas in the UFC, I think it was like, let’s see who we can sign to fight her for a one-off, or make people move up to fight her from a different weight class. But the commitment was never to start a 145-pound weight class – it was always somebody just to fight her. I think that’s the difference. We’ll do this one right.”

Coker can count on Budd to step up to the plate. After stopping Olga Rubin for her third title defense this summer, she said a fight with Cyborg was her destiny.

Scott Coker interested in signing Cat Zingano

After a lengthy career in the UFC, Cat Zingano is now a free agent. The former title challenger parted ways with the Las Vegas based promotion earlier this month.

From the sounds of it, she could soon have a new home in Bellator MMA.

Speaking to MMA Fighting this week, Bellator President Scott Coker divulged that he would like to have a conversation with Zingano if she’s indeed a free agent.

“We’ll have to make sure, but if she is completely free, then we should have a conversation,” Coker said when asked about Zingano.

Scott Coker is also interested in signing former UFC featherweight champion Cris Cyborg.

While it’s possible both Cris Cyborg and Cat Zingano could end up in another promotion besides Bellator, it is worth noting that we can strike RIZIN Fighting Federation from the list of their suitors.

Speaking to BJPenn.com’s Tom Taylor, RIZIN boss Nobuyuki Sakakibara confirmed that he will not be pursuing Zingano or Cyborg at this time.

“Back in 2004 when I first visited Chute Boxe Academy, I was introduced to Cris and I remember she left a great impact to me,” Sakakibara said. “Since then she has accomplished so much in our sport and I do respect her as a fighter. As much as I would love to do something with her, RIZIN’s current situation is that we don’t have an active 66kg women’s division. So we wouldn’t be able to provide her with compelling matchups. It would be great to do something with her in the future if things makes sense, but given our current situation with the lack of depth in her division, it wouldn’t make sense for us to make an offer.

“Same goes with Cat. Right now our focus for women’s divisions are Atomweight and Flyweight.”

Do you think Cat Zingano will end up in Bellator?

This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 8/23/2019.

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Cat Zingano issues statement on UFC release

Yesterday afternoon, news surfaced that former UFC bantamweight title challenger Cat Zingano had been released from the UFC roster.

Shortly after this news surfaced, Zingano released a brief statement on her divorce with the UFC to ESPN. In her statement, the fan favorite admitted that the timing of this ordeal is unfortunate, but assured that we haven’t seen the last of her.

“I didn’t want to take the ultimatum this time,” Zingano said in her statement to ESPN (via MMA Mania). “So I guess you can say it was mutual. I had a project that was very, very important to me, and to the MMA community and fans, and I needed to put me, my son, my training and that first before I had anything to give to the UFC,” she added. Still, Cat made it clear that her fighting days are from from over.

“It’s shitty timing, but it happens, and I’m still a fighter and ready to fuck shit up.”

Cat Zingano parts ways with the UFC having not fought since December, when she was stopped by former Invicta champ Megan Anderson. This stoppage loss was quite controversial as it was caused by a toe to the eye. Zingano attempted to appeal this loss, but was not able to make much headway on this front.

Prior to that loss, Zingano picked up an impressive victory over Marion Reneau. This win, a unanimous decision, separated the former title challenger from consecutive losses Ketlen Vieira, Julianna Peña, and Ronda Rousey — the latter occurring in her lone bid for UFC gold.

Cat Zingano began her MMA career with an impressive 9-0 start, including impressive UFC triumphs over future UFC champions Miesha Tate and Amanda Nunes, both by stoppage, and a decision win over recent UFC bantamweight title challenger Raquel Pennington outside the Octagon.

At 37 years old, she’s currently a solid 10-4 overall. What do you think the future holds for her?

This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 8/14/2019.

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