Ketlen Vieira thinks UFC Sao Paulo win leads to title shot – even if it's an interim one, against Holly Holm

RIO DE JANEIRO – Ketlen Vieira’s name has been thrown around a few times in discussions about the UFC’s women’s bantamweight title picture – including by the division’s champion.

Vieira has made her case for a title shot, as well, and was vocal in expressing her disappointment when champ Amanda Nunes switched gears and went for another target on social media.

But when Vieira (10-0 MMA, 4-0 UFC) returns to the octagon on Sept. 22, at UFC Fight Night 137 in Sao Paulo, she will not be fighting for a title. Instead, she’ll face former Invita FC champion Tonya Evinger (19-6 MMA, 0-1 UFC). And Nunes (16-4 MMA, 9-1 UFC), despite ongoing date-related conflicts, seems headed toward a super fight with 145-pound champion Cris Cyborg (20-1 MMA, 5-0 UFC).

Vieira is honest in her feelings about the situation.

“I think we do get a little upset,” Vieira said during a recent media day in Rio de Janeiro. “The dream of any fighter who gets in the UFC is to fight for a belt. I think I’ve earned this right. The UFC didn’t give it to me, I earned it with all the hard work, mine and my team’s.”

But she also gets why things are happening the way they are.

“I think I’m at a time to invest in my career and to improve,” Vieira said. “I think the time to make money will come. I think Amanda and Cris Cyborg are living that time. I can’t be too selfish and think of me and throw stones at (Nunes) because she wants to grow in life. Because we know in the fighting world there’s an expiration date – you won’t fight your entire life. I understand that point, but of course I’m upset because I want to fight for the title.

“And, the way I see it, she didn’t wipe out the division. There are many good fighters who need an opportunity. I’m one of them. I never asked to fight her, I only talked about it after she said I deserved a shot – that after Raquel Pennington, we’d fight. So I just want her to make good on her word. Because I didn’t say it, the UFC didn’t say it, it was the champion, herself, who said it.”

Vieira used a key word there: time. At 26, she understands that she’s got plenty of it. Like coach Andre Pederneiras, who sees such strong evolution from Vieira that he suggests anyone would be best-advised to fight her sooner rather than later, she also knows there’s still room to grow.

Coming off wins over former title challengers Sara McMann and Cat Zingano into what will only be the fifth fight of her quick UFC rise, Vieira admits she’s actually “scared” at how fast things have been progressing. So, in a way, it’s actually better than she gets another practice round before the real deal.

“A lot of people say, ‘You should fight for the belt,’” Vieira said. “And then I think, and no, it’s fine. I have to do another fight; that’s God’s will. This will make me better prepared. It will make me go through situations that, when I get to a title fight, I feel, ‘I’ve been through this. I know I can revert this. I know I can go for it.’ I’m very happy, very grateful, to be here where I am. It wasn’t easy. As fast as it was, it was also very taxing and very painful. But my team and I deserve to be here today and I can only be thankful.”

OK, so Vieira is fine with waiting a little longer. The emphasis here, though, is on the “little” part.

“I think winning this fight I will credential myself to fight for the title once and for all,” Vieira said. “I don’t see anyone else. The only thing I see is, if the superfight happens, an interim title bout with Holly Holm. I believe that, one way or another, winning this fight I see myself fighting for a belt.

“I think it was Holly Holm who posted on her Instagram that the two of us should fight. And I agree with her, I think winning this fight we should fight. I think, if the superfight happens, that would be the fairest thing to be done.”

But more on that shortly, as Vieira has more immediate concerns.

As the Brazilian constantly reminded after answering questions about what’s next, it all rides on getting past the challenge she has in Evinger. And it’s one that Vieira isn’t taking lightly. If anything, Vieira is preparing for a “war” – the type that she can see taking “Fight of the Night” honors at Ibirapuera Gymnasium.

“We can’t assess her based on the fight with Cris Cyborg because she fought in a division above hers,” Evinger said. “If we assess her at bantamweight, she comes off many wins, fought very experienced athletes. So she’s a dangerous, experienced athlete. Nothing I present to her will be new because she’s fought the best.

“It will be a very big test for me. She’s a very tough fighter. I think people have a very superficial way of seeing athletes. I can say she will be one of the toughest fights of my career, because she moves forward the entire time. She’s not afraid to brawl.”

Should things go as planned for Vieira, we know she wants a stab at the interim title with Holm. She also believes that the superfight between Nunes and Cyborg will materialize before the end of the year. Assuming both these scenarios pan out, she has an idea: What if these two title fights happen in the same event?

“I think it would be good for MMA,” Vieira said. “It would be good for women. it would be very cool.”

And that’s yet another challenge that she won’t take lightly. In fact, asked to size up her competition, Vieira believes a fight with Holm would be even harder than one with the current champ.

“Every fight is a fight, and we know some games don’t go together,” Vieira said. “I see Holm as trickier, because she doesn’t stop. She’s a southpaw. You can’t make mistakes, because she has a very powerful kick. So I see Holm as a little harder than Amanda, because Amanda fights more planted. We know her strongest strike. She throws a lot of straight rights. She’s not as physically conditioned as Holm, because we know she fights three, five rounds, and ends with the same stamina.”

At 26, there’s still a lot that can happen in Vieira’s MMA career. The newly-opened flyweight division, for instance, has yet to be populated and could present a quick route to the title should Vieira ever decide to drop those 10 pounds.

The Brazilian, on her end, doesn’t rule out changing divisions. But it probably wouldn’t be to the one below hers.

“In the future, after I’ve accomplished all my goals at bantamweight, I can fight in the division above,” Vieira said. “Because, since I was a child, my dream has always been to fight the best in the world. That’s what I like. It’s what I love. And after I’ve accomplished everything at my weight, why not move up and fight the best?”

The best, Vieira confirms, means Cyborg. However, there’s little telling whether Cyborg will still be there by the time that happens; the champ has repeatedly talked about the fact that her UFC contract will end soon and she might not renew it.

If she doesn’t, Vieira adds, that’s “even better.”

“I don’t like to fight Brazilians,” Vieira said. “I want to fight Amanda not because I want to fight Amanda, but because she holds the belt. If she didn’t, that’d be even better for me. So I just see the belt. I don’t see Amanda. I don’t see Cris Cyborg.

“I have a lot of respect and admiration for Cyborg. I hope to one day accomplish even half of what she has in her career. I root for her; she’s a blessed woman. I’d be happy if, when I move up, she isn’t there anymore. For me, if Brazilian held every belt, it would be the biggest joy in the world.”

Does she realize that, between her wish to fight the best and her dislike for fighting Brazilians, Vieira has put herself in a bit of a dilemma?

“For sure,” Vieira adds. “But it’s up to God. Whatever will be, will be. Hopefully, Cyborg will be retired. The sun shines for everyone, and it will shine for me at some point.”

For more on UFC Fight Night 137, check out the UFC Rumorssection of the site.

Source: USA Today – MMA Junkie

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