Ketlen Vieira hopes to move her name into the conversation for the vacant UFC bantamweight championship with a victory over Pannie Kianzad this Saturday at UFC London, but a lesson learned in the past is that she does not need to rush things.
Vieira made her octagon debut in October 2016, two years after her MMA debut in her native Brazil, and her lack of experience wasn’t an issue at first. The Nova União talent won four straight UFC bouts against the likes of Cat Zingano and Sara McMann, and even came close to earning a title shot against Amanda Nunes. But then she lost to Irene Aldana and Raquel Pennington just as her opportunities to fight for gold appeared within reach.
Now, as Vieira attempts to get back on track, she’s looking at her UFC start for inspiration.
“I was always tested ever since I entered the UFC,” Vieira said on this week’s Trocação Franca podcast. “I was very inexperienced when I got to the UFC, I only had two years in MMA, and I was ranked and fighting Sara McMann and Cat Zingano one and a half year later. Things happened very prematurely in my life and my career. We know two years is not enough time to [acclimate properly in] MMA because I came from judo, but thank God I feel more comfortable now.
“I depended on my ground game when I got to the UFC. I would get desperate if I couldn’t take [my opponent] down, but people have seen my evolution on the feet in my last fights against Holly [Holm] and Raquel Pennington. Sadly, I didn’t come out with the win in my last fight, even though I think I won, but we can’t complain about close fights.”
Kianzad, who’s only lost to Pennington over her past six UFC appearances, enters UFC London after spending 15 months on sidelines following her victory over Lina Lansberg.
Vieira is confident in a win, but still respects her 31-year-old foe.
“I’m very happy with my evolution,” Vieira said. “Greens [on my record] are very important, of course, but evolving matters more. You’ll always fight the best fighters in the world and I feel I’m doing that fight after fight. I have another great test ahead, Pannie Kianzad, and she’s a great athlete. I’ve never had an easy life in the UFC and it won’t start now. I’m happy and excited to be fighting great fighters, it makes me more motivated. Everything that challenges me to grow and come out of my comfort zone is good, and I’m happy with this opportunity.”
Vieira has asked for title shots many times before in the UFC, but she won’t do that right now. Sure, she would love to get a crack at the vacant throne following UFC London, but the Brazilian talent refuses to overlook Kianzad.
“I beat two former champions and could just sit and wait for my turn, which was fair, I deserved it, but I don’t believe in shortcuts,” Vieira said. “I want to evolve, I want to test myself, so I took the Raquel Pennington fight with no fears. This fight with Pannie Kianzad is very important regardless of the moment in the division. I need a win in a moment that the belt is vacant, but the belt is just a detail. To me, Pannie has the belt right now, because if I don’t get past her, there’s nothing else.”
Kianzad has only been finished once in the UFC, a rear-naked choke defeat to Macy Chiasson in the featherweight finals of The Ultimate Fighter 28 in 2018.
Vieira noted that “every fighter goes out looking for a first-round finish, but I’m fighting an athlete just as prepared as me.”
“It’s hard to get a dominant victory like that in the top five. We see close fights,” she continued. “It’s like master ‘Dede’ [Pederneiras] says, it’s better to get booed in victory than cheered in defeat, because wins are what matters in the end. No one will remember how the fight went the next day, but you have to keep winning. I want a great performance, of course, but my focus is to win round after round.
“I see two scenarios playing out: It’s either a three-round war, a tough fight, or it might end quickly, because we’re both coming for the win. She wants a chance to enter the top five and become a future contender, and I want the opportunity to dream with a title fight. It’s going to be a great fight because we’re two high-level athletes and any mistake could be fatal.”