Inactive for well over a year, former UFC women’s bantamweight title challenger Cat Zingano will make her return to the Octagon at UFC 222, when she faces undefeated rising Brazilian prospect Ketlen Vieira. MMA Fighting reported the news on Saturday, but the initial tweet came on Thursday from Tom Taylor. Also, Zingano’s contract signing gives it away.
Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Bantamweight contenders Cat Zingano and Ketlen Vieira will throw down this Saturday (March 3, 2018) at UFC 222 inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
It’s been the better part of two years since Zingano last competed, and you have to look all the way back to Sept. 2014 to see Zingano’s hand raised. Despite the defeats and inconsistency, Zingano remains one of the division’s most highly ranked fighters thanks to a win over the current champion. Vieira is one of the division’s few young prospects to really make her mark in the last couple years. The 26-year-old Brazilian has scored a trio of wins inside the cage, showcasing real physicality and a slick ground game.
Let’s take a look at the keys to victory for both women:
Key Wins: Amanda Nunes (UFC 178), Miesha Tate (TUF 17 Finale), Raquel Pennington (Invicta FC 3)
Key Losses: Ronda Rousey (UFC 184), Julianna Pena (UFC 200)
Keys to Victory: Zingano is a well-rounded with great finishing instinct. On her feet, Zingano brings some powerful Muay Thai into the cage with her, but her wrestling background shines through more often than not.
Aside from the Rousey loss — which saw Rousey win in usual Rousey fashion — Zingano has struggled when put on her back. She doesn’t tend to get dominated from there, but Zingano is too willing to fight from her back and will lose rounds as a result. She cannot afford to be lazy from her back here, as Vieira is a big, strong young fighter who can wear her out from that position. Instead, Zingano’s strategy should be sprawl-and-brawl, as Vieira can be quite sloppy when trying to push the pace standing.
If Zingano is moving and striking, she should be getting the better of Vieira. In all likelihood, Vieira will try to force the shot, giving Zingano a chance to counter with her favorite front headlock throw. Zingano is likely to do well from top position, but it’s important that she disengage if Vieira begins to gain a good scrambling position.
Key Wins: Sara McMann (UFC 215), Ashlee Evans-Smith (UFC on FOX 24), Kelly Fasholz (UFC Fight Night 96)
Key Losses: None
Keys to Victory: A black belt in both jiu-jitsu and Judo, Vieira has also showed a habit for brawling. Last time out, however, she reminded fans of her grappling credentials, taking down and submitting an Olympic silver medalist. In her debut, Vieira chased her opponent around with constant takedown attempts. She followed that up by running after Evans-Smith with winging hooks. The constant between those two fights was pressure, and that’s the key to beating Zingano.
Vieira is a big, tough young prospect with some power in her hands. She probably won’t win exchanges with Zingano consistently, but keeping Zingano on her back foot is enough. If Vieira is charging forward, opportunities for the takedown will arise, and that’s her path to slowing Zingano’s athleticism and wearing her down.
In an ugly fight, youth often reigns supreme.
Bottom Line: It’s a possible title eliminator.
Zingano is the last woman to defeat Amanda Nunes … and she did it violently. Does it matter that Nunes is a far superior fighter compared to the 2014 version of herself? Not to UFC, which would love to see Zingano score a win and get her name back in the title picture. Meanwhile, Vieira is an exciting potential contender just because she’s new and young. The sky is the limit for the Brazilian, who seems to have the physicality and grappling skill to compete with Nunes. She would be a big underdog to “Lioness,” but often upsets come from the young fighter no one expects to live up to the moment.
The defeated fighter loses out on a title shot, but she still isn’t all that far off. The women’s 135-pound division is rather vacant right now, so it will only take a couple wins for any Top 10-ranked fighter to have a case. That said, Zingano really needs a victory to keep her relevant, as she can’t afford a third straight loss unless she jumps back into the cage right away, something she’s struggled with in recent years.