Heading into tonight’s UFC 222 card in Las Vegas, Nevada, a large percentage of fans predicted a successful return to action for “Alpha” Cat Zingano, who had not stepped foot inside the Octagon since UFC 200 in July 2016.
However, as I stated in my pre-fight breakdown, she was not walking into a tune-up fight in the T-Mobile Arena this weekend. Zingano was booked to face Ketlen Vieira, an undefeated prospect with extremely impressive grappling credentials and striking skills that have caused major issues for her opponents during her short stint in the UFC.
The 26-year-old contender was a problematic stylistic matchup for Zingano, who loves to unleash strikes from both the clinch and top position on the ground. The Manaus native knew of her advantage and showed her confidence as she walked purposefully towards the octagon, never showing a hint of nervousness, even in the face of the former title challenger Cat Zingano.
The bout, which kicked off the UFC 222 main card, did not disappoint. Starting off at a rapid pace, Vieira landed some good strikes early on against the aggressive Zingano, who sought to tie-up in the clinch on multiple occasions in the opening round.
However, Zingano found limited success in the early goings outside of a quick takedown that was immediately shrugged off by her well-prepared opponent, and she ended up closing out the round on her back as Vieira passed into the mount position and pushed towards a finish.
The second round continued the grappling control of Vieira. As Zingano tried for another clinch, the Brazilian put her black belt in judo to full use, tossing her adversary to the mat in highlight-reel fashion. From here, Ketlen enforced her dominant top pressure on Zingano, who could do little from the bottom but deter the prospect’s attempts to advance position and finish the bout inside the distance.
Vieira held on to the top position for the duration of the round, and placed herself in pole position for a decision victory heading into the third stanza of the contest.
Coming out with a concentrated urgency, Zingano pressed Vieira as the final five minutes kicked off. However, a checked kick set the American to limping, and she was swiftly taken down once more by Ketlen Vieira, who pushed repeatedly for the arm-triangle submission that won her a stoppage win over former Olympian Sara McMann at UFC 215 in September 2017.
The finish did not come for Vieira, who dominated the bout with her relentless ground pressure. Zingano did have a resurgence late on as she scrambled to her feet and pushed frantically for the knockout she so desperately needed in order to leave the T-Mobile Arena victorious. Cat did land some good strikes, but ultimately Vieira survived and brought the fight to the hands of the judges.
In-keeping with the night’s tradition, the contest was amazingly declared a split decision, with Ketlen Vieira being crowned the winner. Many viewers, myself included, were stunned to hear that one judge (Marcos Rosales) had scored the bout in favor of Zingano, despite the returning contender being controlled for the last two rounds and much of the first. There was deserved outrage over Rosales’ scorecards, although the right fighter left with the win on the night, meaning this bantamweight bout did not enter the history books as a controversy, but rather as a huge moment in the career of rapidly-rising prospect Ketlen Vieira as she surges towards potential title contention in the near future.
Vieira is now 3-0 in the UFC and 10-0 overall, while Zingano will have to recover from her third consecutive defeat if she is to one day have her rematch with reigning bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes, a fight that cannot be far away from her UFC 222 opponent’s grasp given the run she is currently on.
It is unsure what the future will hold for this pair of top female competitors, but we can expect to see them both inside the octagon before long, with Vieira potentially following up on tonight’s win in a title eliminator bout to determine who is next to challenge Amanda Nunes for the 135-pound title after she is finished with her showdown with women’s featherweight champion Cris Cyborg in a bout that is expected to take place later this year.