Pannie Kianzad had moved on. Her debut loss to Macy Chiasson in The Ultimate Fighter Finale last November stung, and so did her release from the UFC, but she was not about to let it hold her back or end her career.
So she did what fighters do. She fought. And won, beating Iony Razafiarison in Sweden in May. Then she went back to the gym and got ready for another fight.
“I thought I would need another win on my record to be brought back to the UFC, even though I’m one of the most experienced fighters with a lot of fights on my record in the 135-145 divisions,” Kianzad said. “But I was ready to fight again in July after my win in May just to really make a statement that I’m coming back for what’s mine. I did fight after my bout with Macy against a Bellator veteran and I felt great. I’ve been working on some new stuff at home since my last loss and stuff was really working for me.”
Kianzad didn’t need another win before getting a call back from the UFC. It came last month with a request to replace the injured Melissa Gatto against Julia Avila on this Saturday’s UFC 239 card in Las Vegas. “Banzai” was in.
“The thing that surprised me was getting on this card, especially, since they could have brought in any other local fighter from the States or Vegas, so I was surprised and honored,” she said. “Luckily for me, I was in shape for July, and what I did as soon as we found out was speed things up with sparring and game planning, really getting up in tempo in my sessions and I feel awesome.”
So it wasn’t a long absence from the Octagon, but a productive one, with the 27-year-old more confident than ever that she’s ready for the big show.
“Everything just happened perfect with the timing,” Kianzad said. “I’ve been saying ever since they let me go that I’ll be ready and I’m here to own up to that.”
If she sounds excited for a second chance to make a first impression, that’s accurate, and part of the reason may be that while she lost to Chiasson at featherweight, on Saturday she’ll be competing in her natural weight class at 135 pounds. When asked what she gave up to move back to bantamweight, she laughs.
“My weekly buffet. The amount of food is awesome but somehow I like fighting a bit lighter. I feel sharper.”
Kianzad won a Cage Warriors title at 135 pounds in 2014 and defeated Jessica-Rose Clark at bantam as well. But if something interesting presents itself at 145, she’ll listen.
“I went up a weight class last year and yes, that felt good, even though I haven’t had a problem the last time since I got my nutritionist coach to make 135,” she said. “But I wanted to challenge myself and I’m never ruling out 145 in the future for me. But 135 is closest to the heart and right now that’s the weight class I want to go up in the rankings with. I have a lot of potential here.”
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That potential is matched by that of Avila, who comes to the Octagon with plenty of advance notice as a fighter to watch. Kianzad has been watching, and she’s eager to get into a fistfight with the newcomer.
“Julia is tough as nails and ready to throw leather, just like me,” she said. “I know she’s been ready for her debut a long time now, but I’ve been waiting for this fight too. I’m just here to fight and win, and I’m gonna do everything in my power to do that and make it entertaining at the same time. I’m looking to impress myself, first of all, with all my hard work during the years, letting go, showing all my elements and my love for this sport. It’s every fighter’s dream and I’m gonna enjoy every moment and show everyone an awesome display of MMA.”
Sounds like a welcome return. Kianzad would agree, and she’s happy to give the division what it needs.
“It needs some spice,” she said. “It needs Pannie.”