Everyone reacts differently to hearing disappointing news; emotions running the gamut, and next steps too numerous to count.
For Ketlen Vieira, hearing ring announcer Joe Martinez declare the judges scored her most recent appearance in favor of her opponent, Yana Kunitskaya, made her appreciative and even more focused.
“In my eyes and in the eyes of my coaches, the victory was ours,” began the Brazilian bantamweight contender, who returns to action Saturday night in a main event showdown with former champion Miesha Tate. “I dominated the first and last rounds, but unfortunately, I may have left openings for the judges’ interpretations, and that cost me the fight.
“But I always take everything that happens in my life as a lesson, and I can only thank Yana Kunitskaya for that lesson because you can be sure that in that regard, I won’t make that mistake again.
“I want to say thanks for all of the struggles,” she added. “Every athlete who has beaten me has actually been a great teacher for me.”
Hearing her say “every athlete” that way makes it sound like there are a smattering of competitors in the 135-pound ranks that have gotten the best of the 30-year-old, but in actuality, there have only been two — Kunitskaya in February, and Irene Aldana at the close of 2019 in Vieira’s first fight back following major knee surgery.
Prior to that contest at UFC 245, the Nova Uniao product who holds black belts in both judo and Brazilian jiu jitsu had been perfect through 10 fights, earning four victories in as many appearances inside the Octagon to establish herself as a legitimate contender in the bantamweight division. Some may argue that she no longer carries that designation, but an 11-2 record with prior victories over Sara McMann and Cat Zingano, plus this weekend’s pending date with Tate, paint a different picture.
Originally scheduled to take place in mid-October, the critical bantamweight pairing was pushed back to this weekend after Tate tested positive for COVID-19 at the end of September. The former champion returned to action for the first time in more than four years in the summer, collecting a third-round stoppage win over the retiring Marion Reneau, and looked good doing it.
Fighting for the first time since abruptly announcing her own retirement following a one-sided loss to Raquel Pennington at UFC 205 in New York City, the 35-year-old mother of two looked like she’d never left, showing continued improvement with her striking and blending it with her ever-present takedown game, getting the better of things over the first two rounds before getting Reneau out of there in the third.
“Miesha Tate is a very experienced athlete,” began Vieira, offering her assessment of the woman she’ll face in Saturday’s final matchup. “She’s a former champion and she’s fought the best in the division, so I need to be very well trained and prepared for everything because she is an athlete who is prepared for everything.
“I’m motivated by big challenges and she’s a big challenge.”
In addition to being propelled through her camp by the challenge of sharing the Octagon with a former champion, the humble and soft-spoken Vieira was also driven by the opportunity to headline a UFC event for the first time in her career.
“I’m very happy and honored by this opportunity. A girl who left Manaus — born in the countryside, the daughter of traditional riverbank dwellers — and today I’m in the world’s biggest event, fighting in the main event? It’s a dream come true, especially fighting against an athlete who is a pioneer in MMA.
“I’m the first woman from Amazonas to fight in the UFC,” continued Vieira, who moved to Rio de Janeiro when she signed her first UFC contract. “I’m the first woman from Amazonas to fight in the main event, so I’m very happy and very honored by this opportunity.”
In addition to being the most high-profile fight of Vieira’s career, it’s also a critical matchup in terms of the title picture in the 135-pound weight class, where champion Amanda Nunes will defend her title next month against Julianna Pena.
No one has truly established themselves as next in line in the championship chase, with injuries, mixed results, and previous encounters with Nunes limiting the choices. Despite being stationed at Nos. 7 and 8 respectively in the rankings, Vieira and Tate could potentially be battling to determine who gets the next title shot, not that the Brazilian is thinking about anything beyond Saturday’s clash with Tate at the moment.
“I don’t know if this fight takes me to a future title fight, but I believe it puts me in the mix,” she said when asked about the possibility. “I believe that by winning this fight and one more, I will earn a title shot.
“But my focus right now is Miesha Tate,” she added. “There is nothing beyond her, especially because if I don’t get through her, I don’t have a next move, right? I’m focused on her and give more of myself every day.
“I really want this fight so that I can think about the next step, but first I need to beat Miesha Tate.”
And while she knows accomplishing that feat will not be easy, the talented Brazilian contender believes her hunger and desire will help carry her to victory on Saturday night, no matter how the fight plays out.
“Miesha Tate is very dangerous — she has a lot of experience, and she’s fought against the elite of the division — but what makes me more dangerous than her is my hunger to win, my hunger to get to where she’s been. She’s reached the top and has been the champion, and I haven’t.
“I’m hungry for that and it makes me very dangerous,” she added. “I’m confident about having a great fight, about being 100 percent prepared and giving my all in there; going in there to kill or be killed.”
She paused, picturing the fight in her head, thinking about the opportunity at hand.
“November 20 will be a real war, and I’m ready.”