Prospect in the Spotlight (Dec 14-15): Alesha Zappitella

Introduction

Saturday, December 15th, American atomweight prospect Alesha Zappitella will be in action in Kansas City, taking a main card fight at Invicita FC 33. She will be competing against seasoned veteran Amber Brown, as Zappitella looks to continue her undefeated pro success (4-0). Zappitella represents the respected Scorpion Fighting Systems, a camp in Michigan that has a solid roster of male and female fighters. Let’s take a closer look at this prospect as this week’s “Prospect Spotlight.”

Strengths

Wrestling: The most obvious strength of Zappitella’s game is her wrestling. This should come as no shock, as she wrestled at King University and was a 2016 Olympic Team Trial Qualifier. In addition to that, she possesses a purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which helps make her mat game even more rounded. She has strong takedowns and a low center of gravity, thanks to her 4’11” frame. When she gets the takedown, she stays on top and doesn’t give up her position. In short, she’s very heavy (especially being just 105 pounds). She’s technical in that she’s good at advancing to more advantageous positions as well.

Pressure/Aggression: What also makes Zappitella more tough to deal with is the fact that she’s always moving forward. She doesn’t give you much room to breathe and does not step backwards. She will take shots on the feet and keep moving forward until she can clinch or secure a takedown. In the clinch, she is suffocating, as she puts her body weight on opponents, searches for ways to drag them down and does so with impunity. That type of pressure helps tire out opponents.

Needs Improvement

Striking Technique: Her overall striking technique still needs some work, but I will mentioned that from fight to fight, she has definitely shown great improvement. In her fight with Kyna Sisson, her punches were not properly thrown and telegraphed at that, especially as she grew more tired in the fight. They didn’t have a great deal of snap either. However, in the time from the Sisson fight to her most recent scrap with Jillian DeCoursey, she has definitely tightened that up. She keeps her hands higher, throws more crisply and gets more snap off on the end of the strike. She needs to keep working on her defensive striking technique, though, as she’s proven to be hittable, especially as the fight wears on.

Finishing Rate: At 4-0 (1 NC), Zappitella has to become more of a finisher. In those fights, she has just one finish. As mentioned, she has faded down the stretch in some of those fights that went to decision (as noted, has improved). However, when you’re fighting to decisions as much as she is, you can’t slow down like that going into the final bell. It could be the difference between the judges siding with you and siding with your opponent.

Outlook

Invicta Champion/Top-20 UFC Strawweight: Zappitella has a very high ceiling, whether it’s as an atomweight or a strawweight. Yes, her height/size may work against her at times, especially if she moves up in weight class. However, she possesses the most important skill in women’s MMA right now, which is wrestling. Most women in the sport come in with a background in striking. That means the women with wrestling backgrounds have natural advantage, much as BJJ fighters had in the infancy of the UFC (and wrestlers). Note Carla Esparza, TUF and UFC champion (and Invicta champ), and Tatiana Suarez, TUF champion and fastest rising strawweight in the UFC, as your two examples. Both are college wrestlers who have quickly accumulated success in MMA. As an atomweight, I can see Zappitella as the Invicta 105-pound champion. She’s that good. If she moves to 115 to make a run at the UFC, she would be a top-20 fighter whose size may hold her back a little bit, but still be a fighter that sticks around for a while. Either way, she has tremendous upside, and at 23 years old, plenty of time to explore that upside.

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