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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Vegas 43’s Ketlen Vieira

UFC 215: Nunes v Shevchenko 2 Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images

Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, Ketlen Vieira, will go to war opposite former champion, Miesha Tate, this Saturday (Nov. 20, 2021) at UFC Vegas 43 inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Currently ranked at No. 7 in the women’s Bantamweight rankings, it’s hard not to be a bit disappointed in Vieira’s recent results. Back in 2018, she seemed to be one of the few new faces who could offer a genuine challenge to Amanda Nunes, credentialed and undefeated. Since then, she’s fought infrequently and earned just a single victory in three trips to the Octagon. This bout, her first main event slot, is a chance at a redo. Vieira has the opportunity to return to the win column in style, reigniting hopes of title contention.

Let’s take a closer look at her skill set:

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Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Sat., Dec 4, 2021, with a thrilling Bantamweight contenders’ bout that will see No. 4-ranked Rob Font battle No. 5-seeded Jose Aldo. In UFC Vegas 44’s co-main event, No. 12-ranked Lightweight contender, Brad Riddell, squares off with No. 14-seeded Rafael Fiziev in a striking fan’s dream fight.

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Striking

Vieira is a very physical Bantamweight, an athlete who likes to impose her size and strength on opponents. On the feet, she’s a brawler, a combination puncher who likes to hang out in the pocket until her opponent backs down.

Let’s get this out of the way early: Vieira is far from the most technical striker. Her combinations are rarely that complicated or go beyond alternated power punches. She doesn’t kick very often. Her head doesn’t move much in the pocket, which is how Irene Aldana was able to obliterate her with a huge left hook.

Still, that doesn’t mean Vieira is ineffective or easily outworked on the feet. The Brazilian is a majorly hard-nosed fighter, extremely determined to get the last word in every exchange. Very rarely does Vieira allow her opponent to land without sending a right hand back in their direction. That trait alone can be very frustrating, and since few women at Bantamweight have true knockout power like Aldana, Vieira’s habit of taking one to give one isn’t the worst flaw.

Vieira’s habit of refusing to back down from the pocket can break opponents. She’ll poke jabs occasionally, but rarely builds on the strike. Instead, she’ll step directly to her foes with a right hand, follow up with a left hook, then back to the right hook or right uppercut ... and repeat until her opponent gives ground.

Alternatively, Vieira will punch into the clinch often. She’s got quite a bit of craft from that position (more on that momentarily), but the clinch also serves as a way to prevent counters. If her foe is looking to avoid that position, expect Vieira to attempt to land on the break as her foe pulls away.

Wrestling

Vieira is a black belt in Judo and accomplished wrestler in Brazil. Inside the Octagon, she’s shown some real skill with trips and throws.

For the most part, Vieira attacks from the upper body clinch. However, one of her most effective attacks is more of a mixed shot and clinch attempt, as Vieira drives forward at about waist level. Rather than try to lock up the clinch or aim a bit lower for a double leg, Vieira will immediately throw her lead leg out, attempting to tabletop her opponent over the knee (.GIF) or hook the leg entirely (a Miesha Tate signature technique).

In general, Vieira does a really nice job of playing the knee battle. When wrestling in the open or along the fence from the clinch — regardless of whether specifically talking double under hooks, over-under, or double overhooks — the knee battle is really important. The offensive wrestler (usually Vieira) will attempt to split her opponent’s legs with her lead knee, which opens up inside trips as well as the option to muscle her opponent over the hip.

That’s bad news for the defending fighter, who will often try to regain leg position. As Vieira’s foe tries to defend, Vieira can instead step deeper behind her opponent’s knee, allowing for the tabletop mentioned above. In addition, Vieira can look to attack the outside trip as her foe tries to bring the knee back in front (.GIF).

Lastly, Vieira has proven deceptively offensive with her own back to the fence. This is a tricky position to score takedowns, but Vieira has done so numerous time. In this example (.GIF), Vieira used her foe’s pressure against her, stepping across with her hips and blocking just about the knee to secure the toss.

Against Sara McMann, Vieira scored an awesome foot sweep to drastically change the course of the fight. McMann was doing well to win the wrestling battle early with good head position and consistent pressure, but in the second, she relaxed a little bit while controlling Vieira along the cage. Vieira combined the momentum of a strong right underhook and big left knee block to trip McMann at the ankle, spinning the Olympian down to the mat and granting Vieira top position.

Despite her solid offense with her back to the fence, getting controlled along the cage is something of an issue for Vieira. She soundly out-wrestled Yana Kunitskaya last time out (3-0 in terms of takedowns scored), but Kunitskaya spent huge portions of the fight holding her along the cage and working knees/dirty boxing.

It looked like more of an urgency problem than specific technique, but it ultimately cost her the fight either way.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

A Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, Vieira has scored four victories via tapout in her professional career. Her only submission finish inside the Octagon came vs. McMann, and that performance featured the most interesting grappling of her UFC career anyway, so let’s focus on that bout.

In the first frame, McMann was able to secure top position. Early on, however, Vieira did well to hunt for the triangle from the high guard position, landing some decent elbows, too. McMann did manage to pass into mount and do some damage of her own, but Vieira showed off her flexibility further by rolling onto her shoulders and hooking her opponent’s armpits with her legs.

That’s not the default mount escape, but it worked! In fact, Vieira was able to continue to invert and attack the legs. She landed in decent position for a heel hook and then attacked the kneebar as McMann tried to pull away. Neither submission landed, but it was a nice display of offense from bottom position.

As mentioned, Vieira was able to gain top position in the second thanks to that slick foot sweep. Soon afterward, she caught McMann’s arm out of position and locked in the arm triangle from the “wrong side.” This angle on the arm triangle is becoming more common, as the top grappler can apply heavy shoulder pressure without having to worry about passing the guard or losing the grip in transition.

Ultimately, that shoulder pressure was enough to force the submission.

Conclusion

At 30 years of age, Vieira should be in her prime. She has a lot of skill on the mat and real physical gifts, so there’s still hope that the Brazilian can put it all together and emerge as a true contender for the Bantamweight strap.


Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.


Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 43 fight card right here, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN+ at 6 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 43: “Tate vs. Vieira” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.