There aren’t any In-N-Out burgers in Sweden and Pannie Kianzad is nothing short of elated when we tell her that Arizona is home to several.
“Oh yeah. We have to figure that out,” she instructs her team, excitedly doing the math on how they can procure the Southwest delicacy following her early prelim headliner Saturday at UFC 263.
Kianzad had already been walking through fight week in a good mood. She’s got a number (11) next to her name in the bantamweight division, and she’s matched up with a next-level echelon of opponent as she continues her march toward the ultimate goal. She had called out—and received—a matchup with Raquel Pennington. That one fell through, and while she still hopes to face the veteran in the near future, she was equally thrilled for her replacement: Alexis Davis.
“This is a super-hard fight. I have to get through this if I want to be able to dictate what happens after; I need to get through her.
“I’m super happy about it. These are the kinds of fights I want. I’ve been preparing my whole career for these kinds of fights, and I always saw myself when I was younger saying ‘these are the fighters I want to fight before I retire.’”
At age 29, retirement is still a long way off, and there’s plenty of fighters on her hitlist before then. To that end, she has put a career in nursing on hold to pursue MMA 24/7.
“It’s weird to say I’m in my second year of training full-time,” she muses.
“When I look back 12 years ago or so, I was like, ‘I want to train full-time. It’s going to be so nice to be able not to work.’ But when I started training full-time, I was like ‘S***, this is harder! This is even harder than doing a full-time job.’ It’s harder in a different way because my body needs to stay ready and I can’t get injured. But I’m super grateful for the opportunity and thanks to the UFC, I can do this.”
It’s hard to argue with that decision as she rides a three-fight win streak into Saturday. A testament to how difficult the competition is at bantamweight, those three wins over Sijara Eubanks, Bethe Correia and Jessica-Rose Clark have her tied with Karol Rosa for the second longest active win streak in the division. Only champion Amanda Nunes’ nine stands ahead of her.
“When everyone gets a few wins in a row, of course it brings some pressure. But I think you just have to be ultra-focused. Eyes on the prize. Trusting the process. That’s what I’m doing. I have no intention to lose my streak.”
“Banzai” has built that streak on the back of some wicked boxing and standup, with a jab that confounds opponents as often as it hurts them.
“I’m the kind of person that if something is working for me, then I don’t change direction. I don’t think the grass is greener on the other side. If something is working, I try to keep that thing going and just try to improve it. I’m just staying true to my style. It doesn’t matter who I face and what kind of style they have, I make sure they go after me.”
As cool and clinical as she is once she touches gloves, she still finds the build-up nerve-wracking 20 fights into her professional career.
“Your mind is running through different kinds of scenarios and if I’m not nervous, I think there’s something wrong. But during the walk, it’s always the worst. The walk is the worst. But when you get in there, it’s like, ‘I can’t go back now; I just might as well do it.’ It’s kind of like going and getting a piercing. I’m super scared when it’s happening, but when it’s done I’m like [waves hands in praise] “Ahh! I’m so happy!”
That’s definitively the first analogy I’ve heard for prizefighting and body-piercing, but it works.
“But you feel everything from happiness, fear, nervousness…you get super pumped-up. One second you’re thinking ‘I’m gonna f*** her up!’ and the next second you’re like, ‘Oh God, what’s going to happen?’ That’s just the cool thing about it.”
Kianzad fought both on UFC Fight Island and at the UFC APEX, two quiet venues where fans couldn’t be present due to the pandemic. Will the pop of a capacity crowd at Gila River Arena ratchet up the nerves?
“When you fight on the early prelims, there’s not that many fans, so it’s kind of like not having a crowd,” she laughs. “I like the fact that I can hear everything happening, but I’m really happy that the fans are back. That means everything is going back to normal.”