UFC 261: Valentina Shevchenko vs. Jessica Andrade – The Breakdown

UFC 261
Mandatory Credit: Josh Hedges – Zuffa LLC

Make no mistake about it, Valentina Shevchenko has made light work of the flyweight competition since her division bow back in February of 2018.

If divisional debuts are anything to go by in regards to how a newcomer will perform in a prolonged stay in the ranks, Shevchenko launched arguably the most comprehensive and straightforward bow in recent memory. Ever since for the Kyrgyzstan native, it’s been majorly plain sailing. 

Turning in a vacant title unanimous decision win over former Muay Thai foe and one-time strawweight queen, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Shevchenko has firmly lodged four subsequent title defences since that crowning achievement back in December of 2018. 

Jessica Eye and Katlyn Chookagian have both forced the referee’s intervention during their sieges, the former of which in some of the most brutal fashion I’ve ever seen, while gritty veteran Liz Carmouche was picked apart over five rounds before Jennifer Maia succumbed to a rallying performance in November in her unsuccessful quest.

Shevchenko has quite literally run roughshod through her 125-pound counterparts, but there’s always been an intriguing challenge sitting a division lower, which could prove to be the most sizeable challenge to her throne yet.

That challenge comes in the form of former, albeit brief strawweight gold holder, Jessica Andrade. A dogged, aggressive, and incredibly gritty puncher who may have the tools, both somewhat recklessly, but also if a fight with Shevchenko reaches the canvas, to pose what would come as quite the surprising upset.

Arriving at base camp with championship pedigree in tow akin to compatriot, Maia, Andrade scored the 115-pound title at the second time of trying against Rose Namajunas — whom she shares UFC 261 with, via a reasonably worrying slam KO win on home soil.

The former bantamweight would go on to drop the title in August of 2019 against Zhang Weili in Shenzhen, in a one-sided opening-minute knockout defeat. After a failed attempt to move to 2-0 over Namajunas on ‘Fight Island’ in July, Andrade would begin inroads to flyweight spoils.

Returning to Abu Dhabi, UAE in October — Andrade made the leap to 125-pounds, tackling the above-mentioned, Chookagian. A rugged and body-shot-heavy approach from the Brazilian saw her dispatch the title chaser before the conclusion of the opening round. A shrewd tactical approach it seemed to boot, with her team detailing how they believed Chookagian had suffered a rather difficult weight-cut during fight week, resulting in the heavy approach to the midsection. 

Whilst Andrade most definitely isn’t a shoo-in to dethrone Shevchenko this weekend in the ‘Sunshine State’ — she most definitely presents a really interesting prospect to achieve that feat, no matter how sizeable it may appear.

Where the Parana native has struggled quite noticeably in the past, however, is against some of the sport’s technical standouts, particularly in the striking arts. For what she brings in regards to ferocity, force, and power, she lacks, quite detrimentally against a more technical striker.

Challenging the above-mentioned, common-foe, Jedrzejczyk for the strawweight championship back in May of 2017 — the Pole champion managed to lodge one of her most impressive, strike-heavy, and largely one-sided performances of her dominant championship reign, in what subsequently came as her last successful title knockback.

Against Shevchenko, measured aggression is going to prove key I believe. Shevchenko is far more technical when it comes to mixing everything together into potions than Jedrzejczyk, and she’s also got a real determining factor when compared with her Muay Thai counterpart; the ability to shut off your lights, or force you to submit. 

As mentioned earlier, Shevchenko struggled somewhat when challenger, Maia found herself in top-position at the UFC Apex facility at UFC 255 last year, and while Andrade can be incredibly bullish with her forward momentum which often leads her into the pocket and possible clinch scenarios, her ability to force meaningful scrambles against Shevchenko if the fight lands horizontally, is something I question, personally.  

Personally, leaning against Shevchenko in any sort of potential striking affair at flyweight would be foolish. Whilst I believed she would eventually put significant distance between herself and Maia to score a decision win in November, I question if Andrade’s patented reckless, albeit, highly-dangerous approach may lead her into something really detrimental from one of Shevchenko’s limbs. 

Andrade has the ability to make this one really, really interesting and pose arguably the most dangerous threat to Shevchenko’s reign so far, however, you’ve got to hedge your bets on Shevchenko taking a significant lead in the striking exchanges.

Prediction: Valentina Shevchenko def. Jessica Andrade via decision.

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