Alesha Zappitella talks RIZIN 18 and ‘impressive’ Weili Zhang
It never crossed the mind of Alesha Zappitella to take an extended break after suffering her first career loss.
The 24-year-old tasted defeat for the first time in June against former UFC strawweight Viviane Pereira at Invicta FC 35 but chose to take the positives from the experience rather than harp on the negatives.
“I actually don’t have anything negative to say about that fight,” Zappitella told John Hyon Ko of The Body Lock. “It may have been a loss, but I took all the good away from it. I went out there and performed to the best of my ability and put everything on the line. I think it was a learning experience for me.
“She shut my game down, and it was the first time I’ve ever had to deal with something like that. So I really learned a lot from it and I really got to see what I need to start improving my game in my game.”
Zappitella will take that experience to Japan to debut for the RIZIN promotion at RIZIN 18 against fellow atomweight prospect, Kanna Asakura. The fight goes down on August 18, a little over two months after her loss to Pereira in the US.
It will be the second time Zappitella’s young MMA career will take her to Asia. “Half Pint” headlined Kunlun Fight MMA 9, where she won the promotion’s 125-pound title in just her second professional bout. UFC veteran Hermes Franca and Weili Zhang, who fights for the UFC Strawweight Championship on August 31, featured on the undercard that night. The latter had a lasting impact on the young Zappitella.
“I actually posted her [Zhang] on my Instagram with a caption saying when I grow up I want to hit mitts like her,” Zappitella told John Hyon Ko when asked about Zhang. “She is so impressive. And when I saw her make her USA UFC debut, I didn’t know that she was fighting and I was so excited because she is an amazing fighter and I love watching her.”
The road to being the world’s best atomweight
Fighting anyone anywhere seems to be the modus operandi for Alesha in her young MMA career. In six professional bouts, she has fought for KOTC, Combate Americas, Invicta, Kunlun Fight and will now head to RIZIN. The atomweight division has little to no presence in major North American promotions like UFC, Bellator and PFL. Zappitella knows that she needs to take fights wherever they present themselves to be the best 105-pound woman in the world.
“That puts me on top of the world,” Zappitella answered when asked what a win over Asakura would mean. “I am excited to sign another contract with Invicta, and if RIZIN wants me back, I would love to come back. Basically, I’m just kinda playing it by ear, you know, whatever opportunities come my way, I’m going to take it.”
There’s a reason why a victory over Kanna Asakura would have Zappitella “on top of the world.” The 21-year-old has made a name as one of the best atomweights in Japan and is steadily climbing the world rankings. She boasts almost three times as many professional bouts as Zappitella despite being three years her junior. The Japanese native has shown flashes of technical striking, but her offensive grappling is still her strong suit. Asakura has five pro wins by submission, and several unanimous decision victories that saw her dominate her opponent with top control. The takedown has been the path of least resistance to success, but that path has never gone through someone with the credentials of Zappitella.
Her nickname may be “Half Pint,” but Alesha Zappitella is full savage in the world of wrestling. The 24-year-old was an Olympic Trials qualifier and received her purple belt in BJJ. She believes her defensive wrestling will shine in this fight. The ability to stifle Asakura’s grappling will allow her to break the 21-year-old with offense of her own.
“She’s a very good wrestler. I feel like her game matches up very well with the game that I try to bring. I feel like she doesn’t really like to be pressured, I mean who really likes to be pressured when they’re in there? But, I mean, that’s my game. I go in and I bring the fight to my opponent… She’s a really good grappler and I’m almost a brown belt. I’m a high-level purple belt and I placed very highly at the Olympic trials for wrestling, so I think this is just going to be a very good ground fight.”
Her introduction to Japanese MMA may end with her hand raised, or it may not. Regardless of the outcome, if a challenge presents itself, “Half Pint” will back her gloves meet it anywhere in the world.
“Whatever opportunities come my way, I’m gonna take them, because we can’t fight forever, so I’m gonna take the opportunities as they come.”