Justine Kish (Dan Kuhl/Combat Press)

Women’s MMA Weekend Preview: UFC on ESPN 22, Bellator 257

This weekend, there are several big cards from major promotions and a lot of female action included on them.

With so many fights on the horizon, I had to narrow it down to three bouts for this preview. We are going to go with the match-ups featuring Tracy Cortez against Justine Kish and Jessica Penne against Lupita Godinez from UFC Fight Night: Whittaker vs. Gastelum. In addition, we’ll look at the Bellator 257 showdown between Veta Arteaga and Desiree Yanez. The latter two of those fights were chosen via my readers in my Twitter poll.

Let’s get started.


Tracy Cortez vs. Justine Kish (UFC)

This one is interesting for the variety of ways in which it could play out. It could end up as 15 minutes on the feet. It could be contested mostly on the ground. Anything is possible. Regardless, it should be a fun one.

Cortez enters at 8-1 and hasn’t lost since her pro debut in 2017. Kish is 7-3, but she lost in three of her last four appearances.

I like Cortez’s ability to adapt. She knows where her opponent is at their best and is good at keeping them from doing whatever that is. Or, if she can’t stop them from doing it, then she can adapt and excel in that area too. She is very well rounded. In this contest, she is fighting someone in Kish who is there to be hit but is good at avoiding the power shots. Cortez really changes her angles and stance, though, and she can be very confusing for an opponent. Cortez will be wise to do a lot of that on the feet in this one. In doing so, she can stop one of Kish’s weapons: the step-in power shot. If Cortez is constantly moving and changing angles, then it is going to be hard for Kish to figure out when to step in.

Cortez will want to check the leg kicks. Kish throws really good ones, and if Cortez starts getting her legs battered, then it is really going to limit so much of what she can do. Cortez can possibly limit these by throwing a lot of her own leg kicks to damage Kish’s legs. This also is where her movement can come in. To paraphrase Mr. Miyagi, “Your best defense is to not be there.”

Cortez will eventually look to get the fight to the ground. This is the final part of why Cortez’s angles and movements are an advantage. It makes it easier for her to change levels and get takedowns. She can be circling and step in. Her opponent is expecting a strike, but then she drops lower and gets a takedown. She probably won’t do this right away. We might not see the first attempt until very late in the first round or even not until the second frame.

Cortez will be patient with the takedowns. When she gets on top, she will wait for the right moment to advance. There is nothing tricky or unique about her ground game. It’s just very good. She does things very well without taking any big risks.

Or maybe Cortez gets the takedown very early and negates everything I just said. Watch for that. If she does it very early, then she might be doing it just to put the fear of it in Kish’s head and never even try it again. Cortez can then throw in some feints of doing it again and open up Kish to power strikes to the head.

Meanwhile, I could honestly just write one sentence about what Kish needs to do here: kick, kick, kick again, and kick some more. She has really good kicks, especially to the leg. I love how she will double up the kicks sometimes, throwing two really fast, throw one, then come back with another one to a different part of the body. She will need to do that here. She wants to slow down Cortez, stop her movement, and stop the stance switching. The best way to do that is to damage the legs.

Kish throws nice step-in power punches, as I mentioned earlier. If Cortez is constantly moving, then those are harder to pull off. This is another reason for Kisk to want to slow down that movement. When Kish throws combos, she should end as many of them as she can with those leg kicks. She doesn’t want to limit it to just the legs, though. If she can land some to the body and hurt Cortez or even just put some worry into Cortez, then she can also get her opponent to lower her hands and leave an opening for power punches or head kicks.

While all this is going on, Kish has to defend kicks as well. She can be very good at avoiding punches, but she sometimes accepts leg kicks and doesn’t really check them. She’ll just brace for the impact, usually when she is planning to throw them herself. She has to check more of them here.

If Cortez does in fact take it to the ground, Kish can survive down there until there is an opportunity to stand.

Finally, I really want to see Kish put an emphasis on winning the first round. If she can get out to a lead, then she can make Cortez a little desperate. If this happens, then Cortez might get a little reckless and leave openings for a lot more possibilities for Kish.

Jessica Penne vs. Lupita Godinez (UFC)

This one isn’t rocket science. Both fighters have a pretty apparent path to victory. The interesting part of it will be how they react in the cage. Penne has been out of action for four years, and Godinez is making her UFC debut.

Godinez comes in at 5-0 after an October win in an incredible fight with Vanessa Demopoulos. Penne enters at 12-5, but she has not fought since an April 2017 loss to Danielle Taylor.

Four years is a long time, and it provides a lot of unknowns. Where has Penne gotten better? Will there be cage rust? Will she have lost a step? Will finally being able to fight again give her extra energy?

All we can go on is what we know, and we know Penne will want to be on the ground here. When we have seen her struggle the most, it has been against aggressive, powerful strikers like Jéssica Andrade and Joanna Jędrzejczyk. Godinez is another aggressive fighter with a ton of power.

Penne has really nice front kicks and high kicks. Those will be an important weapon to keep Godinez off of her. When she sees Godinez make a move forward, she will want to throw those front kicks to stop Godinez in her tracks. The high kicks will serve almost the same purpose as the front kicks. Throwing them frequently will make Godinez know she was something to worry about and can’t come in with reckless abandon.

Penne also wants to keep her back away from the cage. She’ll enjoy a four-inch reach advantage, which is very significant. Her jab will be a good weapon to keep Godinez away. However, if Penne lets herself get backed to the cage, then Godinez can get inside easier and erase some of that reach advantage. Then, Penne will have no escape, which allows Godinez to really tee off. Penne can return strikes, but in a slugfest, with her power, Godinez is going to win every time.

Penne has two options that will work best for her to get the fight to the ground. First, she can use Godinez’s aggression against her. Penne can use her jab to get Godinez to throw counters. Penne can then shoot in under the power shots and look for the takedown. Her second option goes back to those front kicks. When she throws them and lands, she can quickly shoot in on a stalled Godinez. With the takedowns, it’s got to be about technique. Godinez is strong. Penne won’t out-muscle her. Instead, she has to shoot it and get a trip or something similar.

Meanwhile, Godinez just needs to be Godinez. Penne’s biggest problems have come against aggressive power punchers, and Godinez might have more power than any of them. She will just want to come forward, throw her hands, and just not be too reckless.

If Godinez is reckless and wild, then Penne will have an easier time coming in under with a takedown. Godinez throws a quick and hard one-two. She can rely on it. It’s not wild. It’s powerful and effective. She is also good at getting her opponents to over-extend on their own punches. She’ll try that here. If she can get Penne to over-extend, then it might be her best chance to work around Penne’s reach advantage and come in with her power counters. Don’t be surprised if early on we see Godinez a little more cautious as she tries to get Penne to fall into her trap.

Another positive for Godinez is that the fight is at the UFC Apex. If this fight was on one of the pay-per-view events, then it would be elsewhere in the bigger cage. The smaller cage gives Penne less room to circle around and away, so Godinez has more room to trap and box her in. If Penne is moving on the outside, then Godinez doesn’t want to chase. Instead, she wants to cut her off and trap her back on the cage, which then allows her to try to unload.

Godinez must avoid going to the ground with Penne. If it does go there, then she should be smart and not let Penne rest. Godinez should make her keep moving and try to open up a possibility of powering her way into a sweep or a stand-up.

Veta Arteaga vs. Desiree Yanez (Bellator)

This fight has all the makings of being what they call “a banger.” Side note: Let’s normalize not using the phrase “a banger.”

Yanez comes into her Bellator debut at 5-2. Her most recent bout was a really close decision loss to Melissa Martinez for Combates Americas. Arteaga comes in at 5-4 after dropping her last two bouts. Keep in mind that those two fights came against Ilima-Lei Macfarlane and Alejandra Lara.

Arteaga is a very aggressive fighter, and that’s not going to change here. However, I would like to see her temper that a little bit, because she’s fighting someone who will at times wing in wild punches. She doesn’t want to run into those.

Arteaga sometimes does this really nice feint lead punch and then follows it up with one that isn’t a feint. That one often lands hard. This can be a big weapon here.She can maybe get Yanez to commit to some of those wild punches and from there have the option of countering when Yanez has her guard down. Also, if Arteaga wanted to get takedowns, be it to do work or just to try to win or steal a round, then she can come in under those wild punches and get the takedown.

Arteaga is as tough as it gets, so early difficulties will not slow her down or break her. That is obviously a big positive, but she is also fighting someone in Yanez who becomes more dangerous as she gets going and gains confidence. Arteaga will want to be the one to jump out to a lead if she can. The best way to do this will be to keep it in her comfort zone, where Yanez won’t be able to get any positive momentum. Some lateral movement from Arteaga will be good, because Yanez will eventually look for the clinch and takedown.

Arteaga needs to protect her body. She does have a tendency to leave her body exposed, and that will be a great target for Yanez to hit in order to hurt and slow down Arteaga. Arteaga also leaves herself exposed when her opponent breaks from the clinch. She has to be more prepared for punches off the break, because Yanez might look to break, land, and fall back into the clinch. This is Yanez’s way of weakening Arteaga to make takedowns more successful. Arteaga has great takedown defense, but it becomes harder to defend when she’s hurt.

The longer this fight goes, the better it is for Yanez. Arteaga has to make a point of winning at least one of the first two rounds, if not both.

While Yanez will likely have her own preferred area where she wants this bout to take place, she is very capable of excelling anywhere that Arteaga wants to go. Yanez, like Arteaga, is good at coming forward and throwing. She’s not necessarily as technical as her counterpart, but she is just as effective. She has a very strong jab, which will be her biggest weapon on the feet. If she avoids wild strikes and sticks that jab right down the middle, then she can keep the fight at her range.

Yanez should make Arteaga’s body a target. Hooks and kicks to the body can really slow down Arteaga and assist in keeping it at a comfortable range for Yanez while making takedowns easier. Yanez will want the clinch game and takedowns. Arteaga does have good knees in the clinch, but Yanez should be the aggressor in the position. She can put Arteaga’s back to the cage, which serves multiple purposes. It allows her to do damage and takes the fight away from where Arteaga wants it. This can frustrate Arteaga and lead her to make mistakes.

Yanez will do well if she can get a takedown. She is very strong on top and has really good pressure that makes it hard to do anything on bottom. Yanez’s odds get better as the fight goes on, and sealing rounds with takedowns allows her to potentially have a huge third frame against a tired Arteaga.

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