In September of last year Pannie Kianzad squared off against Tonya Evinger in the Invicta FC 14 main event. The event had already faced disappointing weigh-ins as both Pannie and Evinger had missed weight; hence the bout had been changed to a five round non-title match. The match too did not produce good results, as it was expected to be a close fight between two of the division’s best, instead turned out to be a one-sided beating. Throughout the first round Evinger dominated Pannie with vicious ground for pound and chiseled striking. The beat down continued in the second round, before the ref stopped the match at 3:34 declaring Evinger the victor.
Thirteenth months later, I make a Facebook call which is received by a cool and confident voice. I introduce myself to Pannie as she asks how am I doing. We exchange formal greetings and I go for my first question.
Starting something new is really difficult and going for a sport like MMA requires inhuman courage, apart from that one also needs to have a certain background in combat sports to survive in MMA. Hence I asked her what got her into MMA and what is her background in combat sports.
Pannie replied, “I started as an amateur boxer; I took the sport for fitness. But the ground game was something which always brought my attention. As I learnt about MMA, I decided to try my hands on it.” As I asked her how was her career as a amateur boxer she commented, “I took up boxing in 2005, again I did it for fitness but I managed over 26 fights. And shifting to MMA just felt natural.”
People around us always have some sort of influence over us, it is these people who help us gain confidence and move forward in life. These people do sometimes try and stop us from trying our hands at something or chasing our dreams, and this was the case with Pannie. She said, “Some people in my family do still not like it that I take such a sport, but honestly it does not affect me. MMA is something that I do for myself.”
“Banzai” recently suffered her first professional loss to Evinger. She gave the most disappointing performance of her career, as she didn’t only lose but also missed weight. She had to face heavy criticism for her performance and since then she has not fought. She explained a few unknown facts about her fight. “I was going through an emotional breakdown,” Pannie stated. “I had been keeping things inside for a long time and hadn’t spoken about it to anyone close about it.”
For the first time in our entire conversation her voice sounded a bit different, as she continued, “I was going through some personal problems. I am not giving an excuse; I give the full credit of the victory to Tonya Evinger. She came in and defeated me, there can be no excuses in a fight and missing weight is something which has not happened in my last eight fights.” Pannie even had a message for people who are finding themselves in emotional troubles. “Talk to your dear ones, open about your problems to them,” she said. “It will help a lot; these people around you will guide you”.
Kianzad gave up her perfect record in her last fight. Many times fighters have come out and said that holding a perfect record adds a lot of pressure. Pannie does agree with the statement. “Yes, being undefeated does add a lot of pressure. As it adds a lot of performance pressure, people always expect you to win and at the very same time they want you to lose.”
Regarding the effect of losing this match, she stated, “This loss has not affected me much. In the fight business you win some you lose some.”
Pannie explained why she has been on the sidelines so long since the fight. “I have been on a lengthy layoff because of recurring injuries,” she informed. “I injured my back in my fight against Tonya and later injured my knee during training, hence have not fought since my loss.” She did give us an update on when she’ll be back though. “I will return in December, I have healed up and am ready to go,” Pannie said.
Our conversation took a new turn as I asked her questions related to her personal life and background. “I live with my boyfriend, he too is a MMA fighter but he is amateur,” she said. “MMA does not get me enough so I work in office to pay the bills.”
Pannie explained her nickname change. “I have gone back to my earlier nickname Banzai; I have dropped ‘Sexy-Scramble’,” she said. “Banzai is Japanese, used in World-War II. This means ‘leave no survivors behind’.”
Every athlete faces a person who gives them a run for money, though they may not lose, they go to war and end up having huge respect for the opponent. Pannie too found such a person. “My toughest fight was in Russia against, Milana Dudieva,” Pannie said. “I was a heavy underdog in the match and defeating her felt great.”
Pannie started her career in the featherweight division but like many fighters she moved down to the bantamweight division. I asked her was it because of the fact the UFC did not have a featherweight division. “Yes, but that is not the only reason,” she said. “I feel more comfortable in this division; I feel that this is the division I am meant for.”
Recently one of “Banzai’s” opponents, Jessica Rose-Clark, was in the news after she faced domestic abuse from her boyfriend. Expressing her views on the fiasco, Pannie said, “I feel bad for her that she had such a experience but at the very same time I am proud of Jess-Jess, she showed immense courage as she did not succumb to the abuse. She has set herself as an example for many girls that they should not tolerate domestic abuse and stand on their feet.”
Regarding her thoughts on a UFC call she said, “I could easily fit in the division. There are girls in the UFC whom I have defeated. Honestly I do not know what gets you a UFC contract, sometimes I think it is the way you look and your popularity rather than what are you as a female fighter.”
My questions are almost over as I go for my last question which is what her message is to people who want to take MMA as a career. “It is nothing like the movies,” she stated matter-of-factly. “You have to work very hard and have a strong mind. You will face times where nothing will be right but believe in yourself and move forward.”