Female rabbits tend to fight. For them, it’s a matter of claiming territory and showing dominance. Put two female rabbits in a cage and some fur might go flying.

Katja Kankaanpaa has a pet rabbit. Its name is Alice, but its claim to fame is in how it came to give Kankaanpaa her nickname.

“She’s like a dog to us. She’s housebroken, and when we are at home she can run and jump around the house. The thing is that she can’t stand other female bunnies,” Kankaanpaa told The MMA Corner in an exclusive interview. “Once, my husband and I were visiting one of our friends who also have a female bunny. After we got back to home, I said to my husband that we have to change our clothes so Alice won’t smell the other bunny. Well, my husband didn’t change his jeans and it didn’t take long when Alice noticed the smell, and she attacked my husband and he got bit on his ankle!

Kankaanpaa (top) controls her opponent (Dolly Clew/Cage Warriors)

“Ever since, we’ve called her ‘Killer Bunny,’ and eventually it became my nickname too. I think this is a great nickname, especially for MMA, because when two bunnies start to fight for their territory, it won’t stop until there’s a clear winner.”

Put Kankaanpaa in a cage—or a ring—and she’s likely to go to war too. She’s done so eight times in her professional career, and she tends to emerge as the winner. The 31-year-old strawweight competitor made her professional MMA debut in 2010, but her involvement in combat sports is nothing new.

“I’ve always been interested in martial arts, and before MMA, I did karate,” Kankaanpaa explained. “Then submission wrestling started to get my attention, and that’s what led me to MMA. The first couple of years, I focused more on submission wrestling and I thought I’ll never compete in MMA. But at some point I wanted to test my skills, and that’s how it all started. Nowadays, I do some submission wrestling competitions too, and sometimes I put on my gi and do some BJJ.”

Kankaanpaa has worked her way up to the rank of purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under the tutelage of Marcelo Giudici. Early in her career, she puts those submission skills, along with her fists, to good use. After debuting with a unanimous decision win over Paulina Suska at Oulu Fight 2, “Killer Bunny” scored a first-round TKO in her next outing and submission finishes in the two bouts that followed that one.

Then, things changed. Whereas she had been putting away her foes within the distance in the majority of those early contests, Kankaanpaa couldn’t seem to do so anymore. It all started with an October 2011 fight versus Karla Benitez in Kankaanpaa’s native Finland. Kankaanpaa won, but it went the full 10-minute distance and she had to settle for a unanimous verdict on the scorecards. In subsequent fights with Mei Yamaguchi, Simona Soukupova and Aisling Daly, she continually found herself at the mercy of the judges. Against Yamaguchi and Daly, the result was a unanimous decision in her favor. Against Soukupova, the outcome was a split draw.

“Obviously the competition has gotten tougher during these years,” the Finnish fighter admitted. “When it’s fight time, I’m there to win. It doesn’t matter if it’s KO, submission or decision, I just want to win.

Kankaanpaa (Antti Latva-Kyyny/Kulmassa.fi)

“Sometimes I’ve seen openings for a possible submission attempts, but I didn’t go for it because it was too risky. But now, when I’m more and more experienced, I believe I’m more confident to take those risks too and try to finish the fight.”

Her lack of finishes isn’t detrimental to the quality of her resume. Winning against the likes of Benitez, Yamaguchi and Daly is an impressive achievement, regardless of the manner by which the victory was earned. It also gives Kankaanpaa an added edge when she heads to Kansas City, Mo., on April 5 to fight Juliana Carneiro Lima at Invicta FC 5.

“In my opinion, I’ve had tougher opponents than she has, like Yamaguchi and Daly, but Lima is still a great fighter and I can’t underestimate her skills,” Kankaanpaa said. “I’m sure she has trained hard for this fight and she will be ready for a war. I always think that the upcoming fight will be harder than any of the previous ones, and that’s how I prepare myself for fights.

“It’s always great when you’ve already had tough fights. All of my opponents have had a different fighting style, so I’ve had good experience. Juliana Lima is also quite experienced fighter, but I think I’m more well-rounded than she is.”

Lima, like Kankaanpaa, has seen a number of her fights go the distance. With two fighters sporting decision-heavy resumes, it would seem as though this affair will also make its way to the scorecards.

“I think that I have all the skills to finish the fight if I seen an opening, but I’m in good enough shape to fight three rounds, if that’s necessary,” said Kankaanpaa. “We’ll see what happens, but it’s going to be a great fight!”

The difference between these two fighters will be most noticeable in the ground game. Kankaanpaa has her experience in karate to counter Lima, a Muay Thai practitioner, on the feet. But the Finnish fighter’s submission wrestling skills project to be superior to anything Lima can offer when the two fighters hit the mat.

Kankaanpaa (top) looks for ground and pound (Ville Väätäinen)

“I believe that I’ll be stronger than she, if the fight goes to the ground,” Kankaanpaa ventured. “I’m confident in my stand-up too, and I’m well-prepared for every situation.”

She is also preparing to venture outside of Europe to fight for the first time, and it will be just the second time for her to compete outside of Finland. Kankaanpaa is well aware of the significance this bout holds for her.

“I’m very grateful to Invicta FC for letting me to fight in their organization,” she said. “This will take my career to the next level, and it’s a big deal to me. Invicta does an amazing job and they will help to make women MMA more well-known.”

It’s new territory for Kankaanpaa, but that just means she has to prove her superiority. But that’s not a problem. After all, just like a female rabbit faced with competition from another of its kind, it’s part of Kankaanpaa’s instincts to fight for supremacy.

It’s in her nature, as a fighter and as a “Killer Bunny.”

Katja would like to thank her team, manager, coaches and training partners. She would also like to thank her sponsors. She would also like to give a special thank to her family and to all the supporters, who have helped me to get ready for this fight. Follow Kankaanpaa on Twitter: @KillerBunny_MMA

Top Photo: Katja Kankaanpaa (Dolly Clew/Cage Warriors)