|Esther Lin – MMA Fighting
Valentina Shevchenko offers a huge obstacle for any flyweight on the planet.
Valentina Shevchenko’s status as one of the greatest pound-for-pound female mixed-martial artists in the sport today is undeniable. Four years since her organizational bow, ‘Bullet’ Valentina finally has her UFC gold. This weekend, Valentina clashes with the swift boxing style of Jessica Eye, as the heaviest favorite in Octagon title fight history. The Kyrgyzstan native, has similarly to opponent Eye, witnessed a brisk change in fortunes since the establishment of the flyweight division. A divisional bow beat down of Priscila Cachoeira in Brazil in frightening fashion, followed by a fourth career victory over Joanna Jedrzejczyk, has seen the striker firmly put her bantamweight curse behind her. Many in the sport’s community believe we are set for a prolonged period of Shevchenko dominance at 125 pounds, but UFC 238 opponent Eye, provides much more cause for concern than the betting line suggests.
The Brazilian Blockade
Valentina has only come unstuck twice in her UFC career, both fights coming at bantamweight, both losses coming against two-weight world champion Amanda Nunes. Within a calendar year, ‘Bullet’ Valentina had earned a rematch with Nunes, after an initial three round decision defeat to ‘The Lioness’. Considering Amanda’s recent exploits at featherweight, and the overall size advantage in terms of stature Nunes holds over Shevchenko, the two aforementioned blemishes don’t seem that diminishing. In a widely disputed rematch for the title at UFC 215, Shevchenko found herself on the wrong side of a contentious split decision.
Valentina had convincingly out landed Nunes over the later rounds, with Nunes landing two final round takedowns, to narrowly defeat the 31-year-old according to the judges. Despite Shevchenko’s move to flyweight, she has teased a trilogy clash with Nunes, who takes the co-main event slot at UFC 239 against Holly Holm.
The Elite Stage
Valentina Shevchenko’s Muay Thai and Kickboxing record and background speak for themselves. With countless accolades across both disciplines, as well as a black belt in Judo, Shevchenko was destined for success inside the Octagon.
Fast-tracked into her UFC debut, replacing Germaine De Randamie against former Strikeforce best Sarah Kaufmann, Valentina narrowly scraped by, via a split decision win. Shevchenko’s tendency to start slowly was evident against Nunes in her first full camp walk, and then former champion Holly Holm, costing her dearly against the Bahia native in a three-round meeting. A premier main event match with Jackson-Wink MMA standout Holm, again displayed some chinks in Valentina’s armor, especially in the opening round.
A similarly slow start against Holm in the opening round forced a change of approach heading into the latter minutes of the bout. Flaunting her extensive Judo background, Shevchenko scored several takedowns to sway the judge’s scorecards, and take not only a unanimous decision victory but her biggest Octagon triumph. Earning a championship rematch was next for Valentina in a second straight headliner, this time against talented grappler Julianna Peña. In her only promotional loss to date, ‘The Venezuelan Vixen’ was submitted via first-round armbar, to many’s surprise. The consensus superior Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu player lost out on a scramble to Valentina, who catapulted herself into a rematch with now champion, Amanda Nunes.
Valentina Shevchenko’s demolition of Priscila Cachoeira on her 125-pound debut, was truly terrifying. Out landing the Brazilian 230-3 in the hugely one-sided battering, Cachoeira was finally stopped late in the second round via rear-naked choke. A bloodied hometown debutante, Cachoeira was almost made an example of to fellow flyweights, with a title shot already imminent for the division jumper. Originally scheduled to meet Nicco Montaño and then Sijara Eubanks, a failed weight cut attempt and then a scrapped vacant clash with TUF alumni Eubanks, Shevchenko finally got the opportunity to claim gold, against familiar opponent Joanna Jedrzejczyk.
Both Valentina and Joanna are two of the most accomplished striking artists in Octagon lineage, with some exciting kickboxing exchanges almost guaranteed upon the opening round. Shevchenko’s management of distance and utilization of a spinning back kick to the body throughout, prevented Poland favorite Jedrzejczyk’s formidable forward pressure and traditional Muay Thai combinations. Three 49-46 scorecards awarded ‘Bullet’ Valentina her opening mixed-martial arts championship.