Coming off the heels of her main event loss to Holly Holm, Irene Aldana now finds herself facing the streaking Yana Kunitskaya in the featured WMMA bout at UFC 264. The winner will be a viable player in the women’s bantamweight contender picture.
Previously thought to be the next challenger to Amanda Nunes at 135, Aldana’s hype train came to a crashing halt in a frustrating showing against Holm, who delivered a vintage performance. Looking to rebound here against Kunitskaya, who is 4-1 in her last five UFC appearances, could prove to be a tall task.
Tale of the Tape
In this bantamweight bout, Kunitskaya is three years younger, while giving up three inches of height to Aldana, but she’ll make up for it by matching her in reach. Both fighters are predominantly orthodox and should match up fairly well come fight night. Aldana is 5-4 in her UFC career with one KO, one submission, and three decision wins. Meanwhile, each of her four losses came via decision. Kunitskaya is 4-2 in the UFC, with four decision wins and a pair of KO defeats. The finishing threat of Aldana, with six KOs in her career overall, is certainly something to keep an eye on with Kunitskaya having both UFC losses by KO.
Aldana uses a boxing heavy approach, with some kicks mixed in. She uses her jab very well to set up the rest of her combinations, but lacks an overall diversity in her approach. Her offensive footwork does leave a lot to be desired, as we saw Holm exploit those holes in her game. Using her length, straight punches, and generally solid range management, Aldana is normally able to outland smaller opponents and stay ahead in terms of volume. Where she has run into trouble in the past is not being defensively sound in the pocket and on counters, not moving her head enough. Overall, Aldana is eminently hittable, but she keeps up a respectable output and pace when an opponent has to close the distance to land their own strikes.
Kunitskaya has a versatile skill set on the feet, but one that comes with its own set of limitations. Similar to Aldana, Kunitskaya normally uses her size and length to her advantage defensively, however, Yana does not show the same level of movement and athleticism that Aldana possesses. Kunitskaya is willing to use more of a well-rounded approach to striking than that of the boxing-heavy style of Aldana. Leg kicks and knees to the body, along with elbows in the clinch mean that Yana will win the striking in the dirtier areas, where Aldana might look better from range.
Aldana comes from a predominantly striking background and doesn’t use her wrestling or grappling offensively in the UFC on a consistent basis. It shows in her striking percentages, as 88% of her strikes land from distance, as opposed to only 48% from distance for Kunitskaya. Along with an 84% takedown defense, that looks good on paper, Aldana’s defense starts falling apart under more scrutiny. Holm was able to land 5/14 takedowns for 65% defense. In two other fights against Katlyn Chookagian and Lucie Pudilova, her opponents went a respective 0/11 and 1/11 on takedowns, inflating her defensive numbers substantially. Against opponents who are more dedicated to a ground approach, or even the clinch like Raquel Pennington, Aldana has shown the inability to stuff takedowns effectively. In Aldana’s only submission win in the UFC, she had Bethe Correia hurt and desperately shooting for a late takedown, which she parlayed into high back control, falling over into an armbar against a depleted opponent. I don’t see a similar finish on the ground for Aldana against Kunitskaya.
Contrary to the matchup in the striking, Kunitskaya is much more prepared to win a clinch and wrestling battle against the grappling deficient Aldana. Kunitskaya has faced a heavy diet of wrestlers and grapplers in her UFC run. In her UFC debut, a title fight against Cris Cyborg, Kunitskaya understandable struggled with the elite size and physicality, fighting up a weight class to appease the UFC. Even so, landing 1/4 takedowns on Cyborg with 2:00 of control in her prime is supremely impressive in its own right. Additionally, Kunitskaya has faced Aspen Ladd, Julija Stoliarenko, and Ketlen Vieira; all opponents who have employed or tried to employ a grappling heavy gameplan against her. Kunitskaya has a 53% takedown accuracy, and spends a significant amount of time in the clinch, landing 40% of her total strikes from that position. I envision a steady diet of clinch work, with some takedowns and top control mixed in for Kunitskaya.
Aldana vs Kunitskaya Final Thoughts & Pick
Ultimately, Aldana’s advantage in athleticism on the feet from distance is going to be negated by her poor footwork and Kunitskaya’s ability to get into the clinch and grind on her opponents. Since moving to American Top Team, Kunitskaya has shown a new level of conditioning and game plan, winning her last two outings. I predict a clinch-heavy battle, where Kunitskaya grinds out Aldana to a decision, winning at least 2 rounds easily with her all-around MMA approach. I believe that Aldana is too one-dimensional with exploitable holes in multiple areas. I don’t expect a finish in this fight, but if it comes, it would be an Aldana KO or Kunitskaya submission. Ultimately, the final pick is Yana Kunitskaya by Unanimous Decision
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