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Pannie Kianzad of Iran warms up prior to her fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on April 16, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)
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Pannie Kianzad | 'Banzai' Hits The Switch

Bantamweight Returns From Injury In Peak Fighting For Ahead Of UFC London

Considering she’s mere hours away from getting into a very public fist fight, Pannie Kianzad is in a remarkably good mood. In her own words:

“Excited, giggly…like it would be my first show or something. It’s a good feeling.”

The vibes were less jovial a year ago when fate nixed Kianzad’s  chance to fight Irene Aldana in a high-stakes matchup in the bantamweight division.

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“I had just signed my bout agreement and the day after, I got injured; a freak accident in training. I tore my ACL.”

Pannie Kianzad of Iran reacts after the conclusion of her bantamweight fight against Lina Lansberg of Sweden during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on April 16, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Pannie Kianzad of Iran reacts after the conclusion of her bantamweight fight against Lina Lansberg of Sweden during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on April 16, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

The fact that it was Kianzad’s biggest booking to date was hard enough to bear, but watching her would-be opponent go on to fight for the bantamweight title against Amanda Nunes at UFC 289 was even more difficult. She admits it was hard to watch and not think it should have been her instead.

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Pannie Kianzad punches Bethe Correia in their bantamweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event inside Flash Forum on UFC Fight Island on July 26, 2020
Kianzad getting it done vs Bethe Correia on Fight Island, July 26, 2020 (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

“Yeah, definitely. I was Vegas rehabbing, so I was there watching the (UFC 289) fights and I was so grumpy, like a kid. I was walking away like, ‘No, I'm not watching this fight, I'm just going to check the results,’” she laughs. “But you see how far (Aldana has) come and she's fighting for a title. I do see myself fighting for a title. I just have a big task in front of me on Saturday. And, you know, that's all that's on my mind.”

That big task is a prelim bout versus Ketlen Vieira at UFC London this Saturday. Like "Banzai", the Brazilian is also a top ten threat eyeing her own chance at the 135-pound strap recently left vacant by the retirement of Nunes. A black belt in both judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Vieira is not the type of challenge you can rush into after such a serious injury and, to that end, Kianzad was careful to heal properly.

“Basically, I've been rehabbing for a year. I knew I wanted to stay out a year, because I know a year after you do an ACL surgery, you are pretty much safe from that kind of injury. I just wanted to give myself time. I've been really active in this division, and I don't feel like I'm missing out on anything, I don't feel I need to rush. I'm in a good place.”

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It's fortunate that she didn’t feel the need, because rushing it wasn’t really an option. There simply wasn’t much that she could do except wait.

Pannie Kianzad of Iran punches Alexis Davis of Canada in their bantamweight fight during the UFC 263 event at Gila River Arena on June 12, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Pannie Kianzad of Iran punches Alexis Davis of Canada in their bantamweight fight during the UFC 263 event at Gila River Arena on June 12, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

“If I would injure my upper body, I could still use my legs. You can still do cardio and stuff, but (the ACL tear) limits you.”

But time, as they say, heals all wounds and Kianzad eventually got back to what she does best.

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“When I look back, I was kind of afraid to go back to training when I was still rehabbing, like the idea of wrestling and stuff, but now…I'm throwing spinning s**t,” she laughs.

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Comfort with wrestling was key against an opponent like Vieira, whose arsenal almost ensures that takedowns are on the menu when the two clash at the O2 Arena.

“Good luck” she laughs sincerely, not dismissively. “Good luck. I always say before matchups: they always try to take you down. And then, after a while, they will try to strike with you. But it seems like it never occurred to them that they could get taken down. It’s mixed martial arts. I’ve been doing this for over ten years. I would love for her to shoot. But honestly, if I could have a phone booth war…let’s go!

Pannie Kianzad during the UFC 263 event at Gila River Arena on June 12, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)
Pannie Kianzad, June 12, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)

Somehow, Kianzad is in an even better mood than when she sat down, and her face brightens with every question and answer. She can feel her ten years in the trenches paying the real dividends fighters look for when they get into the game. She can’t escape the feeling that her time is now.

“After I turned 30, something just hit me, like a switch or something. I did my first pro fight when I was 21 and I never peaked until now. I'm ranked number six right now, and after Saturday it's going to be better and I'm just going to take it step by step. “I feel so much better in MMA. I feel safe everywhere. I don't feel like I'm lacking anything. I think a well-rounded fighter is the most dangerous fighter…and I do feel like a well-rounded fighter. I feel like I can threaten people everywhere.”

UFC Fight Night: Aspinall vs Tybura took place live from the O2 Arena in London, England on July 22, 2023. See the Final ResultsOfficial Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass