Cat Zingano was scheduled to be Ronda Rousey's next title challenger. She defeated Miesha Tate at the Season 17 finale of The Ultimate Fighter by TKO to earn that right. However, a knee injury sidelined her, opening the door for the Tate vs. Rousey rematch.
The question is, does Zingano still deserve the title shot?
The detractors will say "No"—and they may have a legitimate argument. She will have been out of action for at least a year by the time of her potential title shot and coming off knee surgery to repair the damage. She may not only show cage rust, but there's chance that she might not be the same fighter due to the injury.
I may have been on the side of the detractors if things had played out differently, but I still maintain that Zingano should be the next title challenger.
The bantamweight division is a work in progress. The UFC is still adding bodies to the division. There simply are not many legitimate challengers. If there were, Tate would have never received the rematch, coming off a loss.
The way that the division has played out in 2013 should keep Zingano in the cat bird's seat—no pun intended.
Sara McMann was scheduled to take on Sarah Kaufman in August, but she backed out due to undisclosed reasons, and we have not seen her since. Had she competed and won, I would be pushing for a McMann vs. Rousey or Tate fight.
As it stands right now, the Olympian is inactive and out of the picture.
Kaufman was seeking a rematch with Rousey, but Jessica Eye defeated her in a close contest. That eliminates her from contention, and Eye still needs at least one more win before entering the title contention discussion.
What about Liz Carmouche? She was the first woman to ever put Rousey in a bit of trouble. She recently lost to Alexis Davis, though. That leaves Davis as the only other option to challenge the winner of the UFC 168 co-main event.
Davis is ranked No. 3 in the division. She had been a mainstay in the women's rankings for a while but could not break through. She faltered in March 2012 in an exciting bout with Kaufman in Strikeforce. However, since that fight, she is 4-0 and 2-0 in the UFC.
She defeated submission specialists Hitomi Akano and Shayna Baszler in Invicta FC by way of submission, establishing herself as one of the premier jiu-jitsu practitioners of the division. Yet her UFC debut was a lackluster fight against Rosi Sexton.
That fight set her title aspirations back a little, but she rebounded with a convincing win over Carmouche at UFC Fight for the Troops 3.
So, why not Davis?
The fact is, the fans don't care about her—yet.
In order for Davis to jump ahead for a title shot, she needs more support from fans who consume the UFC product. That is not happening right now, and Davis has suggested fighting Zingano to determine a No. 1 contender, according to MMA Junkie.
She knows she's not going to get the next shot.
Who Should Challenge for the Belt Next?
This leaves only Zingano as the next challenger. She earned the title shot, and the rest of the division has done nothing to prove they should jump her while she rehabbed a significant knee injury.
The division is still shallow, and contenders are light. It makes sense for the UFC to keep Zingano in the top position to challenge for the belt as the rest of the division works itself out.
Perhaps by the spring someone will emerge as the next contender after Zingano. As it stands today, there simply is not a legitimate challenger after her.
Does she still deserve a shot at UFC gold? The answer is a resounding yes. Zingano should still be guaranteed a title fight—more so because the other women of the division could not seize the day in her absence.