Yana Kunitskaya (L) (Dave Mandel/Combat Press)

Women’s MMA Weekend Preview: UFC Fight Night 185 and OFC 2

On Saturday, UFC Fight Night: Blaydes vs. Lewis presents us with two female bouts that are worth the anticipation. Ketlen Vieira faces off with Yana Kunitskaya, while Shana Dobson faces off with Casey O’Neill.

In addition, I want to take a short look at the clash between Irina Degtyareva and Zaira Dyshekova that takes place at Open Fighting Championship 2. I know these names might be new, but that is part of why I wanted to at least briefly go over it. My goal is to try to talk about three fights per preview, and I’d like to highlight some lesser-known fighters when I can, so that they can become more widely known.

Let’s start with the OFC 2 contest.


Irina Degtyareva vs. Zaira Dyshekova (OFC)

Degtyareva comes into this one with a 3-2 record. Her most recent bout ended in a third-round armbar loss to Viktoriya Dudakova at Fight Nights Global 98 in September. Meanwhile, Dyshekova checks in at 8-3 after a first-round armbar win at Gorilla Fighting Championship 21 in late 2019. In 2016, Dyshekova recorded a first-round submission of Yana Kunitskaya, who is fighting on the same night for the UFC.

Degtyareva’s losses have both come via armbar, and she is fighting someone with three submission wins, including two by armbar. Degtyareva would prefer to be on the ground, but she might want to test things out on the feet more in this fight.

Degtyareva should avoid moving straight back when on the feet, which is something she has a tendency to do. Degtyareva will want to use more lateral movement. If she does this, then she can have some success, especially with a simple jab. I am not saying she has an advantage on the feet or that Dyshekova will not engage with her, but I am saying it might be her best place to focus at least some of her offense.

That said, Degtyareva will look to get it to the ground quickly. She will want her takedowns off the clinch. She doesn’t really set up her shots. Instead, she just basically tells herself “now” and shoots in from a distance. Someone like Dyshekova will be able to easily sprawl or even turn it into a situation where she can get on top and in a dominant position. Degtyareva’s best bet is therefore the clinch, but she can’t rush into it like she does with her shots. She will want to work her way in by throwing some jabs or power shots.

Degtyareva’s clinch game is interesting, because her control of the clinch can get sloppy. She can focus too much on one type of takedown and give her opponent time to escape, get underhooks, or land strikes. She can get those takedowns against less-experienced opponents, but Dyshekova won’t be so easy to put on the mat. It will be important for Degtyareva to avoid rushing or having tunnel vision. She must work on securing control of the clinch by getting her hooks and doing some damage with knees. With better control of the clinch, the takedowns will be easier for her to complete.

Once Degtyareva gets it to the ground, she has a tendency to become stagnant and comfortable on top. She does not really notice when sweeps or submission attempts are coming. She does know how to establish position, though. In this fight, I want to see her be active and land strikes. She can’t give Dyshekova time to set up anything of her own. She also has to keep her arms and hands off the mat so that Dyshekova can’t snatch them.

Degtyareva is likely seen as just “the opponent” here. She isn’t expected to get the win, so there is no pressure on her. She needs to look at it that way. She’s got nothing to lose. This needs to be her frame of mind in the fight.

Dyshekova can choose to stand or go to the ground. She is the far better striker and probably the better ground fighter, too.

Dyshekova throws very nice lead kicks. They can come high or low. The high ones could be a big weapon for her here. If Degtyareva does shoot from far away, then Dyshekova can look to time the shot and unload with a head kick. Dyshekova also has very good movement. If she stays on the outside and uses this movement, then she might have a desperate opponent willing to try to chase her down. In this case, she can land lots of counter punches.

While Dyshekova will welcome the ground and probably even welcome a takedown from Degtyareva, she should try to avoid letting Degtyareva clinch. This is the one place where she can end up in a dangerous position, assuming Degtyareva gets the takedown via a slam and ends up in a dominant position.

If it does go to the ground, then Dyshekova doesn’t need to panic if she is on bottom. She’ll want to make sure she can get guard and keep Degtyareva somewhere where she won’t be as offensive. If Degtyareva slows things down like she has in the past, then Dyshekova can just wait for an opening and start throwing up submission attempts or sweeps. Both will be there. From the top, Dyshekova is very good at advancing and probably will be able to do that here. Submissions might be there, but her best bet is to look for the mount and land strikes until either the referee stops it or Degtyareva gives up her back. From there, she can look for the choke.

Ketlen Vieira vs. Yana Kunitskaya (UFC)

This is a great example of a fight where each fighter will want the action in a different place. The fighter who gets it where they want it probably wins. However, both ladies are also quite good where the other excels. This one could be interesting.

Vieira comes in at 11-1 after a September decision win over Sijara Eubanks. Kunitskaya.sits at 13-5 after a decision nod over Julija Stoliarenko in August.

Vieira will want this fight to be contested on the ground. She will look for a takedown from anywhere. Kunitskaya is very good in the clinch, with knees above other strikes. Against Eubanks, Vieira showed that she is willing to actually try to catch knees from the clinch and use it for the takedown. Will she want to do that with Kunitskaya, despite knowing the potential damage she can take? My guess is that she will. She is strong and might feel that she can get on the outside of the clinch, which makes it easier to have other takedown options.

If Vieira can initiate the clinch and push Kunitskaya to the cage, that’s an option. She could just choose to get it from the clinch before going to the cage. Quite frankly, that is an easier takedown for the Brazilian to get, so I’d like to see her go that route. Of course, she can also ignore any clinching and look to just shoot and maybe get a double leg or something.

Once she gets it to the ground, Vieira is great at pushing her opponent to the cage or angling them to a position she wants. She has several options. If she is able to push Kunitskaya to the cage, then ground-and-pound will be a great choice. She should be able to get her posture up and go to work. She also can be very patient, so she just has to stay active if she chooses to instead look for submissions. That patience can be seen as inactivity, and she doesn’t want to get stood up.

Now, let’s say Vieira’s stuck on the feet against Kunitskaya. She has a really good option here that probably isn’t something that is going to get overly noticed. The Brazilian has a very powerful jab, but she sometimes telegraphs it. She sticks her lead leg out quite a bit, and there is a moment where the leg comes before the jab itself. Kunitskaya is very good at kicking and attacking the lead leg. Vieira needs to try to be unpredictable. She shouldn’t lunge forward. She has to stay closer and keep her hands up. Vieira will at times drop her hands as well and expose herself to counters. She’s not going to out-technique Kunitskaya, and she shouldn’t try to. She has to make it ugly and use her power advantage.

Kunitskaya will want this on the feet. First and foremost, there’s that lead leg she can attack. If she can pick up on Vieira lunging in and telegraphing punches with that lead leg, she’s going to be in great shape. Kunitskaya can blast Vieira with kicks to that leg. It is going to hurt the Brazilian and affect her explosiveness in takedown shots. It might even knock Vieira off her feet, which always looks good to the judges.

Kunitskaya won’t want to engage in a brawl. In Vieira’s lone loss,the Brazilian was doing well against Irene Aldana before dropping her hands and getting caught. Kunitskaya will want to use her technique and turn this into a Muay Thai fight. She has to mix up her strikes and try to get Vieira to overextend. Then, Kunitskaya can look for counters. The leg kicks and counters are her best friends in this affair.

If the pair does clinch, it’s still OK for Kunitskaya, as long as she’s on the outside of that clinch. She has very good strikes in the clinch. If she can be on the outside and get her head position, then she can land knees all day long. She just has to avoid doing the same thing repeatedly, because eventually Vieira will figure it out and use it to her advantage to convert the takedown.

If the fight does go to the ground, then it will most likely be Kunitskaya with her back to the mat. It would be highly unlikely she is going to catch Vieira in a submission (I write that knowing that I probably just jinxed it). Kunitskaya has to hope Vieira gets overly patient. She can even help create this scenario by holding Vieira in tight for a moment. If the Russian can get to this place, then she can continue to hold and hope for a stand-up. If Vieira is active, whether with strikes or submission attempts, then Kunitskaya must use her long legs, get her feet on Vieira’s hips, and try to push her off.

Finally, the Russian has to be wary of Vieira using strikes just to set up a submission. If the Brazilian is landing punches, then Kunitskaya obviously has to defend. However, she should also be aware of Vieira’s body and legs. If there’s any movement to a better position, a submission is more likely, while the punches are just a distraction.

Kunitskaya is coming off a fight with Stoliarenko that was less than exciting, but she has shown to be an exciting fighter in the past. The same can be said for Vieira. This fight has the potential to be fun.

Shana Dobson vs. Casey O’Neill (UFC)

Dobson comes in at 4-4 after her August comeback win over Mariya Agapova. Her back was up against the wall after dropping her previous three.

In many ways, this fight is similar to what Dobson faced against Agapova, who got out to the early lead. Dobson has another aggressive opponent in O’Neill. This time, though, she will know how to deal with it.

She shouldn’t stand and trade, at least not initially. Dobson leaves her body open at times, and O’Neill, while aggressive, can be very smart with her strikes. Dobson might be better served in trying to work the clinch early. Dobson is good there. She’s strong and has very good wrist control. So, forcing a clinch battle early might be her best move. The benefits are not simply physical either. O’Neill is making her UFC debut, so she’s going to be a little extra amped up and looking to make an impression. If Dobson slows her down and puts her back on the cage, then she can really start to frustrate O’Neill.

Dobson can also look for a takedown from there if she wants. On the ground, she has strengths and weaknesses. She is good at attacking limbs and knowing what to go for and when. She’s very conscious of what to do. However, she also gives up position while looking to make something happen. If she gets the takedown, she shouldn’t take risks. Instead, she has to stay on top, because that can have the same frustration impact as the clinch.

If Dobson does this in round one, then O’Neill will be looking out for that extra hard. Dobson can then fake a shot or fake rushing in for a clinch. When O’Neill is looking for that and maybe has her hands low, Dobson can instead throw strikes and do damage.

This fight for Dobson will really hinge on how she handles round one. In the Agapova fight, she showed that she can take a beating, not give up, and come back. If round one goes poorly for her, she knows she can still come back. However, in O’Neill, she is not fighting someone who’s going to go all out and blow her gas tank like Agapova did.

O’Neill comes into her UFC debut with a 5-0 record. She most recently scored a second-round TKO over Christina Stelliou in September. O’Neill hasn’t done what a lot of fighters do. She hasn’t taken safe fights to pad her record. Stelliou, Caitlin McEwen and Miki Motono are good opponents and will have her more prepared than others coming into a UFC debut.

Just as the first round could dictate what happens the rest of the way for Dobson, the same is true for O’Neill. She is aggressive on the feet, but it’s smart aggression. She keeps opponents at the end of her punches. If Dobson does what I expect with the clinching, then this will help O’Neill. By keeping Dobson at the end of her punches, it will make it harder for Dobson to get close enough for those clinches. If O’Neill can turn this into a striking battle, then she should have success.

I really want to see O’Neill work the body, especially against someone who can leave her body open. It’s fine to be aggressive and pressure Dobson. In fact, it’s smart. The one worry there is that the UFC debut could bring about something uncharacteristic and make her overly aggressive in an attempt to make a statement. O’Neill has to keep calm and relaxed, stick to what works, and look for the finish later. She shouldn’t worry about making something for a highlight reel.

If Dobson does get the clinch, then O’Neill is good with her back to the cage. She uses her arm to frame well. Simplified, that means she uses her arm to push Dobson’s head away and leaves it more open for strikes. If Dobson puts her against the cage, then she will want to work for that frame right away, avoid letting Dobson control her wrists, and land shots.

If it goes to the ground — O’Neill can be taken down — Dobson does give up position at times. O’Neill should remain calm and wait for the opportunity to sweep or reverse and see if she can get on top. If she does, then she has great ground-and-pound that she can use.

There is really nowhere where O’Neill has to worry. Even if Dobson gets the fight where she wants it, O’Neill has skills that can allow her to try to make it advantageous to her.

That’s all for this week. Enjoy the fights!