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Cagewriter

New UFC fighters Cat Zingano and Sara McMann bring maternal instinct to the cage

Maggie Hendricks
Cagewriter

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Sara McMann at the Athens Olympics (Getty)

The UFC officially opened its cage door to women on Saturday night, when bantamweight champ Ronda Rousey defended her belt with an armbar win over Liz Carmouche. Several more women have been added to the women's bantamweight division. The list includes Cat Zingano and Sara McMann, who are the first mothers to join the UFC.

For Zingano, her six-year-old son Braden is the main reason she stopped into Zingano BJJ, the gym run by her now-husband. While trying to get back into shape after her son's birth, she stopped in to see a friend who was training at Zingano BJJ. She tried jiu-jitsu and lost the baby weight in three weeks.

With a background in wrestling and new BJJ training, she wanted to try a fight, just once. Since then, she has gone 7-0 with just one win coming by decision. Zingano will fight former Strikeforce bantamweight champion Miesha Tate on April 13 in a title eliminator.

Zingano knows that her journey is not just about her. She has to take her son into consideration with every fight.

"I have to consider what this looks like to my child. Every fight I go into, hands up. I don't want to explain to my child why I have stitches across my face," Zingano said. "I really want him to see my job as positive. Yes, injuries happen, and things can go wrong in a cage. Being so young, I want him to know that this is about passion, it's about an outlet for me that I love."

McMann won a silver in wrestling at the 2004 Olympics, becoming one of the first women to earn a medal in the sport. She finished second at the Olympic Trials in 2008, and decided to retire from wrestling. That's when she had her daughter, Bella.

But McMann is driven by competition, and before long, MMA drew her in. She won her first amateur bout in 2010, and went pro with a first-round submission in May of 2011. McMann's pro record is 6-0, and she is waiting for her first UFC bout.

McMann's reasons for fighting are not about getting money or fame. She is drawn in by the competition, and wants to be the fighter her daughter is proud of.

"I won't ever do things that are outside my character to gain followers. I won't fight in a way that people want to see. I'm going to fight in a way I think is great and true to me, which happens to be entertaining also. Competition is an extremely personal thing for me. I put my life into it. I won't be swayed at every turn by what fans and media want. I'm going to be me."

Bella is now four, and McMann said that becoming a mother has actually made her more competitive.

"I've actually become more aggressive since I've had my daughter. Before I had her, you couldn't really get me angry enough to be violent [outside of fights]. Now, if someone messes with her? I will hurt them."

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Cat Zingano at UFC 157 (Getty)

Zingano echoes McMann on protectiveness of her son.

"There definitely is a maternal instinct to go into it. When I'm training and I really need to dip into something, and I think if me and my child are in the woods and something or someone is attacking us, I'm going to defend his life with everything I have. It's easy to relate. When someone has their arms around my neck, I think I have to be here for my child. Nothing's going to stop me."

But with jobs very different than most mothers, Zingano joked that she does sometimes stick out when she picks up her son at daycare. It can make it difficult to get playdates.

"I'll go to my son's daycare, and I have my hot pink streaks in my hair, and my buff arms, I dress casually and everybody knows because Braden will tell them, 'My mom's a fighter and I'm going to be a fighter when I grow up!' I'll try to set up a playdate and they'll say, 'Um, I'll call you."

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