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Pannie Kianzad of Iran poses for a portrait after her victory 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: From Worrier To Warrior

After Battling Self-doubt, As Well As Her Opponents, Earlier In Her Career, “Banzai” Says She’s Trusting The Process As She Gets Set For A Big Rematch At The UFC APEX.

One of the biggest misconceptions about elite fighters is that they all have bulletproof confidence. Often, they’re battling the same internal doubts and worries that the rest of us face on a day-to-day basis.

UFC women's bantamweight contender Pannie Kianzad freely admits that she’s had to tame her inner demons during her career, and now, as she gets ready to make the walk for her 24th professional fight, she says she’s really starting to tap into her full potential.

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Kianzad’s journey at the sport’s highest level started with crushing disappointment as she lost to Macy Chiasson in the featherweight final of Season 28 of The Ultimate Fighter. Victory would have secured her a UFC contract, but instead “Banzai” had to go back to the drawing board after a second-round submission defeat.

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Looking back at that fight, Kianzad admits it was a bittersweet memory, with the taste of defeat still palpable, but tempered by the knowledge of what eventually followed.

“I remember not being in the UFC anymore!” she told UFC.com ahead of her upcoming bout at UFC Vegas 88 this weekend.

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“It’s a lot of mixed emotions, of course. But I just wasn't meant to win The Ultimate Fighter. I thought I was. But, when I think back, I'm like, 'You know what? It just turned out really good, anyway.'“

After her defeat to Chiasson, Kianzad made the decision to drop down to bantamweight and bounced back with a victory on the regional scene in Sweden before eventually getting the chance to step up to the UFC. Since then, she’s gone 5-3, with wins over Jessica-Rose Clark, Bethe Correia, Sijara Eubanks, Alexis Davis, and Lina Lansberg. 

 

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)

Now Kianzad is set to rematch her TUF nemesis when she faces Chiasson in a bantamweight main card matchup at the UFC APEX on Saturday. It’s a chance for the Iranian-Swedish contender to showcase her growth as a fighter, and she said the timing of the rematch was ideal.

“I thought it was really good timing for everything to happen right now,” she explained.

“I like rematches – I've done a couple of them – and I feel like five years is a long time, but it's a good enough time to do a rematch. 

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“Of course, I got better (and) I'm really happy with my progress after I turned 29, 30. I’m learning to always enjoy every day of training and just enjoy the moment.”

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)

Kianzad is no stranger to rematches. She’s faced Clark and Lansberg twice, and won the rematch on both occasions, so she knows the slightly different processes that go into preparing for a familiar opponent. 

“The good thing is, you know how they feel if you fought them before,” she said. 

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“So you don't need to go and think about, 'Oh, I wonder how strong she is, how hard she punches,' and everything. You know that. 

“But focusing on myself, and just reminding myself how much I've improved the past five years, really helps. Not thinking about the opponent actually really helps, too!”

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)

Despite the disappointment attached to her last meeting with Chiasson, Kianzad said there is nothing personal in their upcoming meeting, and said that both of them have evolved significantly since that first meeting at The Pearl at The Palms back in November 2018.

“I think both of us have been looking good,” she said.

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“I stepped back from the UFC for a year, and then got back in. And I really feel that 135 suits me a lot better. I think Macy’s done great – her first fights were amazing. And then she's faced a lot of tough opponents. So have I. 

“I do feel that I’m at my best at bantamweight, and I’m just feeling confident and believing in my skills coming into this. I feel like I just need to be me, and it will all work out.”

Ketlen Vieira of Brazil punches Pannie Kianzad of Iran in their women's bantamweight fight during the UFC Fight Night at The O2 Arena on July 22, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Ketlen Vieira of Brazil punches Pannie Kianzad of Iran in their women's bantamweight fight during the UFC Fight Night at The O2 Arena on July 22, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Kianzad’s last outing saw her on the wrong side of a decision as she lost out to Ketlen Vieira in London last July. Since then, she’s looked to push her boundaries in a bid to level up in a competitive 135-pound division. As well as honing her technical skills, she has also worked hard on improving her mindset in order to allow her to compete to her full potential.

“I was a bit hard on myself after my last loss,” she recalled.

“You expect more of yourself, but, in the end, I just switched up some things. I got out of my comfort zone (and) tried different training methods. I've been in Sweden for the most part, but my last four weeks have been here in Vegas training.”

That switch, completing her camp at Xtreme Couture, has only served to fortify Kianzad’s growing confidence. Now she’s trying to put her self-doubt on the shelf and rely on her training as she looks to claim a key victory this weekend.

Pannie Kianzad of Iran poses on the scale during the UFC Fight Night ceremonial weigh-in at The O2 Arena on July 21, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Pannie Kianzad of Iran poses on the scale during the UFC Fight Night ceremonial weigh-in at The O2 Arena on July 21, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Her plan: “Just not being afraid to open up a bit and try different stuff, and just not worrying so much,” she said.

“I’m a worrier, you know? I’m a worrier and a warrior, because I go around just thinking. So this time I really tried to trust the process and not think that I have not done enough, because I have.”

The phrase “trust the process” came up a couple of times during Kianzad’s interview, and she explained that her route to success is one that involves a clear and confident mindset.

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

“Just to be more relaxed, to trust the process, and try to be really focused when I'm in there,” she said.

“I sometimes feel like I'm putting my opponents on a big pedestal, which is fine, but I just can't forget about myself. I’m equally as good, or better. So, I feel that being more present and just believing in myself will really help me in the future.”

The words of Survivor’s iconic fight anthem Burning Heart declare that “...it’s you against you.” Kianzad has adopted that mindset and, if she gets her hand raised against Chiasson on Saturday, victory will be hers alone. 

UFC Fight Night: Tuivasa vs Tybura took place live from UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada on March 16, 2024. See the final Prelims and Main Card Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass