The classic striker vs grappler is one of the oldest clashes of styles in the history of MMA. The striker wants to keep the fight standing in order to pick apart their opponent and eventually finish the fight with a series of punches, kicks, elbows, and knees. The grappler looks to take the fight to the ground and control their opponent. This allows them to smother the opposition with devastating ground and pound or overwhelm their foe with submission attempts. On Saturday night, the main and co-main event will both display this type of matchup. The headliner will consist of a possible Heavyweight Title contending bout as Curtis Blaydes is set to face Derrick Lewis. The co-headliner will include two female bantamweights looking to push their current UFC winning streaks to 2-0 when Ketlen Vieira fights Yana Kunitskaya. Now let’s dive in and take a closer look at the path to victory for both the strikers and grapplers this Saturday night.
Co-Main Event – Ketlen Vieira vs Yana Kunitskaya
Ketlen “Fenômeno” Vieira
11-1 MMA, 5-1 UFC | 2 (T)KOs 4 Submissions |5’8” (173cm) | 68” Reach
The #6 ranked women’s bantamweight fighter holds black belts in both Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Judo. During her impressive run in the UFC the Brazilian has beaten the likes of Ashlee Evans-Smith, Sara McMann, and Cat Zingano. Her lone loss came at the hands of bantamweight contender Irene Aldana. Vieira will look to improve her record to 12-1 and continue her path of destruction towards the title.
Path to Victory
Being the more experienced fighter on the ground with her black belt in both BJJ and Judo, Vieira should look to take this fight down to the canvas. In order to get her there, Vieira must be patient and capitalize on Yana Kunitskaya’s aggressiveness. When her opponent pushes forward, she needs to tie up in the clinch and utilize her Judo. She has plenty of trips in her arsenal to take this fight to the ground. To initiate her trips, Vieira needs to land strikes to the head and body while in the clinch in order to keep her opponent guessing and eventually take the fight to the ground.
Once on the ground, “Fenômeno” can utilize her credentials Jiu-Jitsu and dominate on the ground. She must maintain heavy top pressure and look to advance her position by applying strikes and her higher level BJJ transitions. When in a dominant position, Vieira can look to posture up and unleash a plethora of ground and pound. Given the fact that three of her four submission victories have come by choke, look for Vieira to search for her opponent’s neck throughout the fight.
Ketlen Vieira locks in an arm-triangle choke against Sara McMann at UFC 215.
She needs to actively smother her opponent which will cause fatigue and confusion. This will allow Vieira to capture a decisive win or submission victory.
Yana “Foxy” Kunitskaya
13-5 MMA, 3-2 UFC | 7 (T)KOs 1 Submission | 5’6” (168cm) | 68.5” Reach
“Foxy” is the #7 ranked UFC women’s bantamweight fighter. The former Invicta champion, made her UFC debut in a title fight against arguably the most feared woman in all of MMA. Kunitskaya fought Cris Cyborg for the Women’s Featherweight Championship. It was a promising debut as she controlled Cyborg against the cage by outmuscling her for a brief period. Unfortunately, much like most of Cyborg’s opponents, she was stopped with an onslaught of strikes. Since that performance, the Russian fighter has dropped to 135lbs and will to continue her winning ways come Saturday night.
Path to Victory
Kunitskaya’s path to victory is to keep this fight on the feet. She needs to utilize her range and keep Vieira away from her. To keep her at the correct distance, Kunitskaya should look to stick her jab out and chop away at her legs whenever possible. If her opponent gets close enough to close the distance, “Foxy” needs to exhibit the same strength in the clinch that she did in her debut against Cyborg.
Yana Kunitskaya outmuscling fellow UFC fighter Wu Yanan at Fightspirit Championship 6.
Typically, you wouldn’t want to outmuscle your opponent when trying to escape their grasp. With Vieira having such elite level BJJ and Judo, Kunitskaya needs to try to force her way out in order to avoid her opponents clutch.
Leg kicks are an effective tool when trying to control your opponent’s distance. After a while, leg kicks will limit the ability of movement for your opponent. They damage the leg and make it hard to shoot for takedowns and close the distance.
In short, Yana Kunitskaya needs to use her jab to keep Vieira at range. She must also set up her legs kicks and use those legs kicks to take away the mobility of her opponent. If Vieira manages to close the distance, Kunitskaya needs to escape using technique as well as her unique power and brute force.
Main Event – Curtis Blaydes vs Derrick Lewis
Curtis “Razor” Blaydes
14-2 MMA, 9-2-1 UFC | 10 (T)KOs | 6’4” (193cm) | 80” Reach
Curtis Blaydes is the #2 ranked UFC heavyweight contender. He was a NJCAA champion and All-American in wrestling and currently holds the most takedowns in a UFC heavyweight fight. Blaydes is currently on a 4-fight win streak and looks to improve his record against the always dangerous Derrick Lewis. The Illinois native intends on becoming UFC champion but in order to do so a win here is a must.
Path to Victory
As the more dominant wrestler, Blaydes is going to have to take this fight to the ground. The NJCAA All-American champion will look to get Lewis against the cage and continue to pressure him which will exhaust his opponent. In previous fights, Lewis showed that his cardio is a weakness so look for Blaydes to exploit the flaw. Constant wrestling pressure forces the opponent to exert more energy.
When Blaydes takes this fight to the ground he’s going to look for his signature “Razor Blayde” elbows to the head. He is one of the few fighters that uses their ground and pound efficiently. Most fighters use it to score points and win the fight on the ground. That is not the case with Curtis Blaydes! He will search for a takedown and destroys with his vicious elbows.
Curtis Blaydes landing elbows from the top on Alistair Overeem at UFC 225.
Lastly, Blaydes will need to be smart on Saturday night. He can’t rush in because Derrick Lewis, much like former opponent Francis Ngannou, carries the power of a shotgun blast in his hands. One good shot and the fight could be over. He needs to keep his hands up, have good head movement, and move forward when it’s safe to land his takedown. Once on the ground his, top tier wrestling and lethal ground strikes should earn him unanimous decision win or a devastating finish.
Derrick “The Black Beast” Lewis
24-7 MMA, 15-5 UFC | 19 (T)KOs 1 submission |6’3” (191cm) | 79” Reach
Currently ranked at #4 in the UFC heavyweight division, Derrick Lewis has had a great MMA career. He is a former Legacy FC Heavyweight Champion, former Bellator competitor, owner of multiple performance bonuses in UFC, owns the most UFC heavyweight knockouts and is a former UFC title challenger. Lewis is currently riding a 3-fight win streak and looks to continue his winning ways as he takes on Curtis Blaydes in the main event of UFC Vegas 19.
Path to Victory
It is well documented that Derrick Lewis contains the power to put anyone to sleep. Given that Curtis Blaydes’ only losses are coming from a fellow hard-hitting heavyweight in Francis Ngannou, he could pose a massive threat to the wrestler. Lewis has 19 knockouts in his 24 wins and has knocked out the likes of Gabriel Gonzaga, Travis Browne, Aleksei Oleinik, and Alexander Volkov.
Derrick Lewis KOs Alexander Volkov with just eleven seconds remaining in their UFC 229 bout.
In order to win this fight, “The Black Beast” will need to stay patient, control the center of the octagon, and land one of his ferocious sledgehammers he calls fists. Having patience will be key because as most know Derrick Lewis’ cardio is one of his main weaknesses. He has been known to fade during his fights as time goes on. Regardless, he is still dangerous at any point in a fight. Lewis needs to let Curtis Blaydes come to him and throw a two or three punch combination to forces Blaydes to hesitate.
Controlling the octagon is another crucial aspect come fight night. Blaydes will look to control the fight against the cage to eventually get his takedown. To avoid that, Lewis needs to stay in the middle and avoid having his back too close to the cage. He can do this by using his jab to keep his opponent at his distance.
Ultimately, Lewis needs to ensure this is a slow-paced fight and wait to land his finishing blow. He’ll have to stay calm and avoid doing any extra movements that will exert too much energy. If the fight gets to the ground, he will need to explode out of any bad position. Lewis can’t grant Blaydes any time to stabilize ground position and open up his ground and pound.
UFC Vegas 19: Blaydes vs Lewis will air Saturday, February 20th, on ESPN and ESPN+ at 5pm ET. Watch the fights and see who emerges victorious on the evening. More importantly tune in to see if they can execute on their “Path to Victory”.