Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) women’s Bantamweight veterans Ketlen Vieira and Yana Kunitskaya will battle this weekend (Sat., Feb. 20, 2021) at UFC Vegas 19 inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Prior to a 21-month layoff, Vieira was seen as an imminent contender for Amanda Nunes. However, she lost that return bout in rather brutal fashion, though the Brazilian is already back in the win column and ready to rebuild. Alternatively, Kunitskaya is a former Invicta FC champ who joined UFC’s roster on short-notice as a sacrifice to Cris Cyborg up a weight class. Since returning to 135 pounds, Kunitskaya has won three of four bouts, establishing herself as a Top 10-ranked contender and athlete to watch moving forward.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each woman:
Key Wins: Sara McMann (UFC 215), Cat Zingano (UFC 222), Sijara Eubanks (UFC 253), Ashlee Evans-Smith (UFC on FOX 24)
Key Losses: Irene Aldana (UFC 245)
Keys to Victory: Vieira is one of the most physical women at 135 pounds. She pushes a hard pace, throws clubbing punches, and likes to force exhausting positions in the clinch and along the fence.
There is almost a 100 percent chance this fight ends up in the clinch early and often. Both women excel at jamming their foe into the fence and landing short knees and punches. It may not be terribly exciting, but it’s a relatively safe and high-percentage strategy to win fights.
So ... what happens when both try to implement the same gameplan? Likely, we’ll find out which woman is stronger and craftier in the clinch.
Before that, however, there is a clear strategy for Vieira to work. Kunitskaya likes to kick in the open, not trade punches. Pressuring the kicker is almost always a sound strategy, particularly when Vieira is more comfortable in the pocket. Plus, since both women like to bully their opponents with physicality, the athlete moving forward is likely to feel more comfortable and effective.
Record: 13-5 (1)
Key Wins: Marion Reneau (UFC Fight Night 146), Lina Lansberg (UFC 229), Raquel Pa’aluhi (Invicta FC 25), Cindy Dandois (M-1 Challenge 22)
Key Losses: Aspen Ladd (UFC on ESPN 7), Cris Cyborg (UFC 222), Tonya Evinger (Invicta FC 20)
Keys to Victory: Kunitskaya is an odd mix of skills. “Foxy” has a background in Taekwondo and Muay Thai, and definitely has the kicks to prove it. However, more often than not, she chooses to wrestle from the clinch. Fortunately, Kunitskaya is strong and well-conditioned, enough so that she traded positions evenly with one of the division’s most powerful young wrestlers in Ladd.
Vieira is going to bring the pressure — that’s her game. And while Kunitskaya can very likely hold her own in the clinch, betting on being the stronger clinch fighter and winning on small margins is not exactly a sure-fire strategy.
Instead, I’d like to see Kunitskaya working to counter Vieira’s straightforward attack. Irene Aldana did a really good job of circling laterally to avoid Vieira’s attacks, which eventually set up that heavy left hook. Kunitskaya may not have the boxing of Aldana, but she does have a stiff jab, one that could do damage if Vieira is constantly turning to face her opponent.
In addition, Kunitskaya has a good mix of kicks in her arsenal. If she meets Vieira’s forward pressure with some front or side kicks, that could prove an effective strategy for the Russian.
Women’s Bantamweight is a wide open division.
While Nunes amuses herself with the Featherweight division, the Bantamweights have time to figure out who’s next in line. Currently, Germaine de Randamie and Holly Holm are vying for rematches with Nunes, but in terms of fresh matches, the winner of this bout would be next in line after Julianna Pena. That means the victor here could be just one more fight from a title shot, which is likely why UFC opted to name this co-main event.
It may not be a particularly amazing fight, but it’s a divisionally important one.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 19 fight card this weekend, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 19: “Blaydes vs. Lewis” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.
At UFC Vegas 19, Ketlen Vieira and Yana Kunitskaya will duel in the co-main event. Which woman will earn the victory?