There was an epic, unforgettable moment in Pannie Kianzad’s last fight against Bethe Correia on Fight Island last July. As the clapper sounded that there were ten seconds remaining in the first round, Correia somehow mistook the clap for the end-of-round signal, dropped her hands and began to turn away. Kianzad made immediate note of the error and unleashed a flurry of head strikes on the Brazilian, pummeling her until the actual horn sounded.
“I heard the clapping noise, but I’m 100% sure that’s not the time. When she tried to shake hands, I’m like ‘I guess this is my time to punch her.’ When I think about it now, I’m like ‘F***! I could have knocked her out,” she laughs.
It was a wild, thrilling, and admittedly hilarious, sequence. Even Correia laughed at her mistake as she returned to her corner. But past the entertainment value, it encapsulated a picture of two bantamweights headed in different directions.
Kianzad would go on to cinch the unanimous decision victory and take Correia’s ranking in the top 15, while “Pitbull” announced afterwards that her next fight would be her last.
“I kind of didn’t want her to retire,” she says somewhat somberly. “But when you think about it, she’s 37 and has been in the UFC since 2013. She had a run at the gold and fought the best in Ronda (Rousey) and Holly (Holm), so it wasn’t a shocking decision.”
At age 29, and after narrowly missing the UFC cut just two years ago as the runner-up on The Ultimate Fighter 28, Kianzad is visibly on a mission since her return to the big show. Her current two-fight win streak has found her opponents (Correia and Jessica-Rose Clark) on the wrong ends of lopsided striking clinics, and there’s a sense of purpose evident in each one of those throws.
“Not always in my career have I been able to get myself the best training and nutrition and strength and conditioning. I always had to get what I can get, scrape up whatever I can figure out. I’ve always been like ‘I don’t have much, but I can work with it.’ Back then, I couldn’t even get quality food to put in my body. But now, lately, I’ve been able to get help to make me a better athlete. I feel optimal as a fighter. I feel so much better.”
After being a standout on the European MMA scene and a star in promotions like Invicta FC, Kianzad set aside her 9 to 5 to train full-time when she reentered the UFC in 2019. But she still hasn’t left her noble work as a nurse completely behind. She still puts in the time when duty calls, like it did this past year during the pandemic.
“It’s for me to stay grounded and to remember where I came from. I actually like my job outside of training. Now I don’t have to do it, but I want to do it,” she explains, noting that when the day comes when she can no longer fight, she’ll return to nursing full-time.
Thankfully for us, that’s a long way down the road. In the meantime, we’ll get to witness Kianzad’s continued evolution as a fighter and all the ferocity that comes with it. Case in point: her matchup this Saturday against Sijara Eubanks at UFC Fight Night: Thompson vs Neal.
Another relentless TUF alum, Eubanks sits next to Kianzad in the rankings and is anything but an easy out. Their similar fearlessness about getting into wars could potentially steal the show on the prelim card.
“This is a tough one, I have to tell you. It screams 50gs all over it,” she laughs, “but this is a tough one. I respect Sijara as a fighter, but when we’re in the cage, it’s nothing else to me. I remember her from Invicta. I’m really familiar with her style, her strengths and all that. She has those elements that are really hard to train for. She’s so physical and so technical. But I’ve seen myself grow after every fight. People thought I looked good after the Bethe fight. I’m going to look even better after this fight.”
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Like most of her peers, her obvious goals involve the championship. But unlike many of them, Kianzad carries the hopes of her home country - or countries, to be accurate - into the Octagon every time she fights.
“I’m actually representing three different countries,” she explains. “I’m born in Iran, brought up in Sweden, I train and compete for Denmark. For me, I love all the countries the same. Sweden and Denmark have given me so many opportunities to compete. I’m the first female professional fighter from Iran. I make sure to represent my Persian heritage, as well, because without it and without my parents that have been pushing me so much all these years, a lot of people wouldn’t have had these chances. But I am a Swede. I’ve lived there most of my life since I was three. So, I appreciate it, and for everyone out there supporting me during this journey, I’m really thankful.”
Sweden has yet to claim a UFC champion of their own, and even if newcomer Khamzat Chimaev is somehow able to claim that title before her, being the first female Swede to get UFC gold is no less an honor for Kianzad.
“I’m going to get there. It’s going to be a tough road. I’ve had such an up and down career…my life has been switched on and off a lot. I’m happy that I got back to the UFC when I’m closer to my prime. That’s what motivates me to keep going. I know what I want and I know my goal. If anybody tells me otherwise, that just drives me even more. If you don’t have people that doubt you, it’s not fun to win.”