Melissa Gatto had an outstanding — but under the radar — year in 2021.
Originally slated to make her UFC debut in 2019, medical issues prevented Gatto from appearing at UFC 237. The UFC then attempted to book her a scrap at UFC 239, but a failed drug test, which led to a one-year USADA suspension, knocked her from that event.
Gatto finally made her first appearance at UFC 265, which took place on August 7, 2021. The 25-year-old looked good for someone who had not fought for nearly three years. She used a significant reach advantage to force her opponent, Victoria Leonardo, to fight off her back foot. She was also aggressive on the ground, looking for submissions when the fight went to the ground. Gatto got the win when the doctor stopped the fight after examining Leonardo between rounds two and three and finding she sustained a broken arm after blocking a kick in the first stanza.
Four months later, Gatto landed a matchup against the more experienced Sijara Eubanks. Gatto was a +140 underdog to Eubanks (-160), who came in overweight for the flyweight scrap. Gatto had some issues in the early going of that bout, but a body kick followed by ground strikes gave Gatto the win in the third stanza.
What a front kick finish by @MelissaGattoUFC #UFCVegas45 pic.twitter.com/aHMvNb1EhY
— UFC (@ufc) December 18, 2021
The finish was the first stoppage loss of Eubanks’ career, a fact that Gatto pointed out during an interview following her victory.
“Although Sijara really had some losses, like everyone was talking about, she had only lost to really tough girls,” Gatto said. “Nowadays they are ranked, they’re the UFC’s elite. People need to put some respect on her name. I respect her story and everything she has done very much. She had never been knocked out or submitted before, that shows how tough she is. I did something different, I did what nobody else could.”
Gatto’s TKO win over Eubanks was her first career victory via strikes.
Now 8-0-2, the 26-year-old fights for the first time in 2022 when she meets the 29-year-old Tracy Cortez on the early prelims of UFC 274. Cortez is 9-1 in her career and riding a nine-fight winning streak. She is 3-0 in the UFC and coming off a split-decision win over Justine Kish in April 2021. Cortez missed weight for that flyweight contest, checking in at 126.5 on weigh-in day.
This is a good bit of matchmaking from the UFC. Expect the winner of this bout to perhaps nab a spot in the official UFC women’s flyweight rankings and get a push from the UFC brass. If Gatto comes out on top, look for her to be aggressive in pursuing more fights in 2022.
“I want to get busy and get at least three of four fights (in 2022),” Gatto said through an interpreter at the post-fight press conference after her win over Eubanks.
Gatto added, “I just want to get my old rhythm, my own groove back. It’s been a long time. I did a hiatus for about two years, so I want to improve my skills, and whoever the UFC throws at me, I welcome.”
UFC 274 takes place on Saturday, May 7 at Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona. The main card streams on ESPN+ pay-per-view following prelims on ESPN and early prelims on ESPN+.
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