‘Statement win’: Russian Yana Kunitskaya moves closer to another UFC title shot after close decision victory against Ketlen Vieira

Russia’s hopes of adding yet another world champion to the UFC’s ranks took a giant leap forward on Saturday night after Yana Kunitskaya outlasted the gritty Ketlen Vieira to move one step closer to title contention.

Kunitskaya was awarded the nod on the judges’ scorecards after three rounds of hard-fought action in Las Vegas on Saturday night, although the Russian admitted afterwards that the result of the fight was closer than she might have hoped.

Brazil’s Vieira constantly looked for opportunities to take the fight to the ground but too often found herself stymied by Kunitskaya’s relentless attempts to fight back from the bottom – as well as unleashing vicious barrages of ground and pound when she was on top.

A late torrent of elbows then opened up a nasty cut on Vieira, potentially tipping the scorecards in Kunitskaya’s favor – with her razor-thin victory soon confirmed by the judges by a unanimous score of 29-28.

To be honest, I wasn’t so confident,” the Russian, who moved her career record to an impressive 14-5 (1), said afterwards. 

I wasn’t sure because in some positions she was dominant. I didn’t know how it would be in the judges’ eyes. I was a little bit nervous but I feel I did a good job.”

The win, which was her fourth in her last five fights, considerably enhances Kunitskaya’s title credentials in a division currently dominated by UFC ‘champ champ’ Amanda Nunes. 

Kunitskaya’s UFC debut came almost three years ago in a world title fight against then-champ Cris Cyborg, although the Russian later admitted that she was somewhat overawed by the occasion and succumbed – like so many before her – to the Brazilian slugger’s power in a first-round TKO defeat.

With Nunes now the dominant queen of the bantamweight and featherweight divisions, UFC matchmakers might well be licking their chops at the prospect of a fresh, in-form challenger for their seemingly invincible 135lbs world champion.

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Kunitskaya is preparing for UFC co-main event billing this weekend. © Getty Images / Instagram @yanamma
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