Valentina Shevchenko: A Cut Above The Rest
Do you know what I really enjoy about Valentina Shevchenko’s title-reign.
She’s coming in there each and every time looking to make a statement about her prowess.
And I know, Lauren Murphy really didn’t have much for her in that UFC 266 co-main event, just like most of the challengers to her belt in recent times - challengers that might have a moment or two, steal a round here or there.
But I just love how she’s continuing to improve, becoming more confident in her ability to put a pace of these contenders.
I think there were some early signs that perhaps Shevchenko’s title reign would be a bit more slow paced, a reign that would see her content to assert her superiority and ride that wave out to a clear victory.
But no, with three finishes in her last four, The Bullet is going in there time and time again - making statements - utilising her entire arsenal to confuse her opponents, often freezing them up through the sheer diversity of her skillset.
She stabs with kicks at range, counters perfectly on the inside with her boxing, and is liable to attempt, and usually succeed at, a takedown or two per round.
She’s the full package and by the looks of things, she’s both still improving and very determined to showcase those improvements with each passing fight.
I remember when she took on Julianna Pena back in 2017 - while on the fringes of the bantamweight title picture.
And at the time, she was fresh off of a victory over Holly Holm that had her reputation established as an elite striker within the 135lb mix.
Pena, on the other hand, was the grappler, the submission threat, an Ultimate Fighter veteran who was expected to serve as the stylistic opposite to what we assumed would be a straightforward striker vs. grappler bout.
And for the opening round, you’d think that was the case - although Shevchenko’s takedowns were always a threat.
But in that second round, just as Pena believed herself to have made a breakthrough by securing the takedown, Shevchenko latched on to a beautifully timed armbar, shocking the world by making it clear that she was no one trick pony.
And for me, personally, that was the first hint that we were looking a real future great - just the sheer audacity of it all.
It might not sound that significant, but as I sat there with the narrative I had in mind completely in tatters, Shevchenko - in what was a title eliminator bout - confirmed to the world that she had a very interesting new dynamic to her game.
And, of course, with the pair of times she has faced Amanda Nunes up until this point, she has fallen by the most minute of margins.
But when you look at The Lioness’ knack for running through her opponents in brutal fashion, the respect she has for Shevchenko’s overall game is clear.
And after watching Valentina dominate Lauren Murphy - brushing her aside like she wasn’t even there, I think it’s pretty obvious what she needs to do next.
And I know that the 125lb division is a young one, and I do believe it needs time to grow and blossom, potentially without the presence of a champion who is just so much better than her peers.
Look at strawweight.
That division is one of the most compelling in the UFC, full stop - and evenly matched set of fighters who have passed the title around at a fairly non-stop rate ever since Joanna Jedrzejczyk’s original period of dominance.
And I think that if there could be a parallel drawn between the two, the flyweights are kind of at that point that the strawweights were when Joanna ruled it in such dominant fashion.
Now, I wouldn’t have a problem with Valentina sticking around for a few, or even many more defenses of her title - that’s her right.
But with Amanda Nunes’ days in the sport seemingly numbered, if Shevchenko does want to try her hand at two weight world champion status - I just don’t see a better time than next year to finally make that assault.
Because as we know, this isn’t boxing, we’re well used to the notion of the best fighting the best while they are in their respective primes - and though the UFC - and Dana White specifically have voiced their approval of this matchup, I just hope that politics or timing doesn’t mess with this dream fight.
The two fights we’ve already gotten between this pair were so razor close - and in the three or four years since they last fought, they’ve both improved so much, to such an extent that there is little doubt that we’re looking at the two greatest female fighters of all-time - both in terms of technical prowess and overall skillset, as well as legacy and high level accomplishments.
It’s not often you can find a situation like this, a battle for undisputed G.O.A.T status - a trilogy bout, that while not a rubber match, still holds the same weight as if it were 1-1.
Yea, that’s the fight for the history books, a fight that the sport needs.
Because right now, we’re waiting on the next wave of talent to emerge at both 125 and 135lbs - and featherweight as well, I suppose.
And I have no doubt that both divisions will eventually flourish - although I think 145lbs will likely be scrapped altogether unfortunately.
But for now, there is no doubt over the gap that exists between these two champions and their contenders - and I just don’t want to see this end up as an opportunity lost when in reality, this is one of the best fights you can make in the sport right now.
And if we’re going to talk about how that bout may go, I actually have no idea.
The size disparity may drag the technical difference between the two into a more even level.
Because while Shevchenko is the more polished and versatile of the two, Nunes, while also both of those things, is a battering ram in there, capable of finishing anyone across the two divisions she rules.
So if they do meet at 135lbs, I’d have to sit down and really watch some tape - and even then it would be guesswork.
These are two future Hall of Famers folks, and I just really, really want to see them settle their differences!