UFC Fight Night 206 breakdown: Why Holly Holm should finish Ketlen Vieira in return from layoff

MMA Junkie analyst Dan Tom breaks down the UFC’s top bouts. Today, we look at the main event for UFC Fight Night 206.

UFC Fight Night 206 takes place Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. The card streams on ESPN+.

Holly Holm (14-5 MMA, 7-5 UFC)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’8″ Age: 40 Weight: 135 lbs. Reach: 69″

  • Last fight: Decision win over Irene Aldana (Oct. 3, 2020)

  • Camp: Jackson-Wink MMA (New Mexico)

  • Stance/striking style: Southpaw/kickboxing

  • Risk management: Good

Supplemental info:

+ Former UFC women’s bantamweight champion
+ Pro boxing experience (33-2-3 record)
+ Multiple boxing and kickboxing accolades
+ 6 KO victories
+ 5 second-round finishes
+ Disciplined footwork and movement
^ Excellent distance management
+ Active and accurate cross
^ Coming forward or off of the counter
+ Diverse kicking arsenal
+ Deceptively strong inside the clinch
^ Works well off of over and underhooks
+ Consistent round-winning sensibilities

Ketlen Vieira (12-2 MMA, 6-2 UFC)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’8″ Age: 30 Weight: 135 lbs. Reach: 68″

  • Last fight: Decision win over Miesha Tate (Nov. 20, 2021)

  • Camp: Nova Uniao (Brazil)

  • Stance/striking style: Orthodox/kickboxing

  • Risk management: Good

Supplemental info:

+ Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt
+ Judo black belt
+ Regional wrestling accolades
+ 2 KO victories
+ 4 submission wins
+ 3 first-round finishes
+ Improved striking ability
^ Favors cross-hook/cross-uppercut returns
+ Strong inside of the clinch
^ Looks to turn mistakes into takedowns
+ Good transitional grappling
^ Works well from topside
+/- 1-0 against UFC-level southpaws

Point of interest: Striking with a southpaw

Holly Holm

The main event in Las Vegas features a battle between ranked bantamweights, [autotag]Holly Holm[/autotag] and [autotag]Ketlen Vieira[/autotag].

Despite coming from a grappling base, Vieira, the orthodox-stance fighter, has developed some solid striking fundamentals on the feet.

An inherent counter fighter, Vieira keeps right crosses and left hook returns on a hair-trigger. Akin to her Nova Uniao stablemates, Vieira typically does well when looking to parry orthodox jabs off of her rear hand, attaching the occasional body shot after her initial counter.

When Vieira did fight a southpaw in Cat Zingano, the Brazilian seemed to struggle with reading shots to the body, as that opened up a lot of offense for the former UFC veteran. Meisha Tate also had a ton of success going to the body of Vieira, but the 30-year-old’s improved uppercut returns arguably helped her from getting overrun by any level-changing attacks that the former champ was throwing her way.

That said, Vieira will be facing a much different challenge in Holm.

A stick-and-move stylist at heart, Holm demonstrates the disciplined footwork and distance management that’s needed to play in her comfort zone, just outside of range. Utilizing lateral movement until finding an opening to her liking, Holm will engage in strafing runs, throwing a variety of pre-programmed combinations like a finely tuned machine.

A consistency of patterns that she carried over from boxing, Holm will usually circle to her left to reset, and move to her right when attempting to achieve attack angles and counters. Holm has attempted to get more aggressive at closer ranges as of late, as well as incorporate more traditional leg kicks into repertoire to complement the “ponies” that Mike Winkeljohn is constantly calling for from her corner.

However, I’m not sure how many low kicks Holm will be attempting given that her opponent will be looking for any excuse to take her down.

Point of interest: Potential grappling threats

Sep 9, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; Sara McMann (red gloves) fights against Ketlen Vieira (blue gloves) during UFC 215 at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Considering where Vieira’s advantages lie on paper, no one should be shocked if the Brazilian looks for takedowns early and often.

Not only does Vieira come from a judo and jiu-jitsu base, but she also competed in wrestling, earning regional accolades and a championship in Brazil back in 2009. In fact, in more recent fights, Vieira has done a better job when it comes to changing her level for double-legs or snatching up the occasional single.

That said, Vieira still scores and attempts most of her takedowns from the clinch. Whether she’s loosely searching for an outside reap with her leg or looking for body locks off of underhooks, Vieira – for better or worse – will typically wait for her opponents to make mistakes before getting aggressive with something.

But considering that Holm has been embracing her point-scoring sensibilities inside of closed quarters as of late, I will be curious to see how clinch exchanges play out between these two.

Deceptively strong in the clinch, Holm works well off overhooks and underhooks, framing with her forearms as she looks to break away (something that proved effective against past judoka foes like Ronda Rousey).

Against fighters like Cris Cyborg and Raquel Pennington, Holm showed that she has more than just defensive framing and underhook awareness, engaging and controlling clinches on her terms throughout the contest. And against Irene Aldana, Holm displayed improved takedown chains and sensible work from topside, showing the savvy and wherewithal to transition through phases.

Still, I’m not so sure she’ll be looking to grapple with a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt like Vieira – at least early.

Although she isn’t the most action-packed fighter on the floor, Vieira shows solid fundamentals from topside that range from persuasive shoulder pressures to passes that involve subtle submission threats. Should Vieira get to a good position in this fight, I’ll be curious to see if she steps up her aggression given how her grappling has been graded in the past.

Point of interest: Odds and opinions

The oddsmakers and public are siding with the American, listing Holm -250 and Vieira +190 via Tipico Sportsbook.

Even though I’ve been skeptical about Holm in the past, I don’t disagree with the spread here.

I know that a 10-year age gap is an automatic red flag for a lot of MMA gamblers, but women’s MMA tends to ironically parity the heavyweight division in both the volatility of outcomes and the potential for fighter longevity.

More importantly, Holm is a legit athlete who has some real strength to accompany her technical skills. However, Holm is not without her weaknesses, as Vieira’s counter right will be the main weapon to watch out for from her on the feet.

From her first fight with Pennington to her defeats at the hands of Valentina Shevchenko, Germaine de Randamie and Amanda Nunes, the counter right hand has been well-known kryptonite for Holm in both boxing and MMA.

That said, I’m not sure that Vieira – despite showing improvements and throwing more confidently – has enough pop in her shots to get Holm off of her game.

In fact, I also think that Vieira’s lack of athletic explosion and aggressive initiative may also cost her in the takedown department as well. As mentioned in the previous section, we’ve already seen Holm’s grappling defenses tested against more technically proficient and athletic threats like Rousey, leaving me little enthusiasm for Vieira’s lax opportunism.

I know this has “Holm by decision” written all over it, but I believe that we could be in store for a rare finish this weekend.

Regardless of the opposition’s stance, Vieira seems to have the most trouble when it comes to both defending bodywork and left-sided strikes. For that reason, I suspect that a solid variation of a southpaw double-attack from Holm could be enough to recreate another knockout loss for Vieira.

The smaller cage may encourage more grappling, but I’ll stick with my initial read of a head kick knockout for Holm come the middle-to-late rounds, as I believe that her grappling and footwork will be good enough to dictate the exchanges down the stretch.

Prediction: Holm inside the distance