Russian MMA star Yana Kunitskaya says that the spotlight doesn’t come naturally to her but she is more than ready to make a splash when she takes on a high-profile UFC test against Ketlen Vieira this weekend.
Former Invicta champion Kunitskaya has flattered to deceive on occasions throughout her UFC tenure thus far.
The 32-year-old Murmansk-born star has won three fights to date since making her UFC debut in a March 2018 featherweight title fight against the imperious Cris Cyborg – a bout which, like so many of the Brazilian slugger’s others, ended via first-round TKO.
Returning to bantamweight, decision wins would follow against Lina Lansberg and Marion Reneau before Kunitskaya succumbed, once again due to strikes, in her next fight against Aspen Ladd.
Now though, and with momentum once again at her back after beating Julija Stoliarenko last August, Kunitskaya says it is time to knuckle down and fight her way to the top of the rankings.
And her next opportunity to just that comes in this weekend’s UFC co-main event in Las Vegas against dangerous Brazilian Ketlen Vieira.
“It’s a good match-up, we’re close in the rankings, it’s going to be interesting… It’s a tough opponent and a big challenge for me,” Kunitskaya said via MMA Junkie.
While this type of statement is usually issued as catch-all jargon by fighters in the midst of a weight-cut, for Kunitskaya it seems on the mark.
She has never been the type of athlete to fly too close to the sun when it comes to her career, preferring to abandon the promotional histrionics opted for by some of her peers but preferring instead to methodically work her way up the rankings.
Kunitskaya freely admits she is an introvert – something which perhaps might have affected her under the bright lights of her failed UFC 222 title bid against Cyborg all those years ago.
But make little mistake; this is the platform she wants to return to.
“[Fighting earlier on the card] has some pluses,” says Kunitskaya of the dizzying heights of being booked in a co-main event fight. “Especially for people like me, I’m a big introvert, so I have this feeling that if you fight first you can relax, watch other fights.
“But [being the co-main event] is a big opportunity, so I’m excited and really happy.”
As for what comes next, should she win on Saturday, Kunitskaya said she was not getting ahead of herself.
“I know a lot of girls are thinking about how to go to a title shot fast and they lose their fights because of this,” said the Russian.
“I read that Katlyn [Chookagian] said the same when she got knocked out, she was so focused on a title fight and thinking about this. I’m not thinking about the next opponent, I don’t think it’s a good thing to do.”
And true to form, Kunitskaya isn’t biting on questions of her title ambitions just yet. “I’m not looking past this fight, I’m 100 percent focused on Ketlen,” she says.
By the time Sunday morning rolls around, those questions could soon grow from a whisper to a roar.