Valentina Shevchenko spoke to Pundit Arena about her reign as the champion of the UFC’s flyweight division and her plans for Amanda Nunes in the future.
She may have lost twice to the consensus G.O.A.T of women’s mixed martial arts, but there is a very credible argument that Shevchenko is the finest female fighter on the planet today.
A technical master whose ever-improving skill-set has seen her develop from a more muay-thai-centric approach to a seriously dangerous competitor no matter where the fight goes.
Many, in fact, scored that second bout with Nunes at UFC 215 to the Kyrgyz champion – such was the razor-thin nature of the five-round chess match these two pound-for-pound greats put on.
Now fighting at her more natural weight as a flyweight, her wins over Priscilla Cachoeira and the former UFC strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk would support the claim that she’s well and truly coming into her prime and according to her, the very best is yet to come.
Speaking to us here at Pundit Arena ahead of her return to the octagon at UFC 238 this weekend, the champ explained how happy she is to be finally fighting people who don’t outmatch her physically.
“My training camp was perfect. I’m ready for the fight and ready for whatever my opponent can bring.
“I’m very happy that I’m finally able to fight in my natural weight-class where I can show more of my technique. It’s different when you’re fighting bigger and heavier opponents, you have to think and measure everything all of the time.
“Here, in 125lbs, you can open up all of your potential and just be yourself without too much pre-occupation.”
There is the sense that Valentina is on the cusp of starting a very, very long reign atop the 125lb roster – something that is both a testament to her clear talent and the relatively young division she sits on top of.
And while the prospect of surpassing the six title-defenses of the legendary former bantamweight queen Ronda Rousey would be the natural benchmark to pass, Shevchenko doesn’t seem to be interested in comparing her achievements to anyone else.
“Yes, my goal, for now, is fighting at 125lbs and defend the belt as much as I can. I’m not looking at anyone else or counting. I’m making my own history and I’m making my own path through the martial arts in the UFC.
“It doesn’t matter to me who was defending their belt how many times, I’m just doing my thing and I hope to do it as well as I can.
Her rival Amanda Nunes has made her argument to being the very best in the world pretty water-tight after completely blasting through the formerly dominant featherweight Cris Cyborg at UFC 232.
And in many cases, it would seem as though a 2-0 record over a particular fighter would be enough to close that book entirely and yet, now, the desire from the fans for Nunes/Shevchenko III is greater than ever.
“It felt very good to win the belt because it was my goal from the very beginning, from my very first fight in the UFC. Being champion in the UFC means a lot.
“But I am still saying every time that me and Nunes haven’t finished. For now, my goal is fighting at 125lbs but in the future we will have our third fight.
“It doesn’t matter what weight class or if she wants to come down and try herself at 125lbs. I am open to this opportunity at any time, any time she wants.
“I am not discarding the possibility of me going up to 135lbs.”
UFC 238 will see the champ make the first defense of her title against the in-form contender Jessica Eye – a fighter who has truly developed a new level of consistency since moving to the flyweight division.
And while Shevchenko is respectful of her game and aware of the fact that anyone who faces her at 125lbs at this point will be a massive underdog, she projected an unshakeable confidence in her ability to dominate no matter where the exchanges happen.
“She deserves the fight because she is now ranked at #1 in flyweight. She is a fighter who does all kinds of stuff but I will use my skills, experience, and everything I have to help me.
“There is nothing unexpected that she can bring to the octagon because I am ready for everything.
“I never worry about the favourites or the underdogs. It’s not something I think about. I worry about my preparation, my physical condition, and my mental condition.
“This, for me, is number one. I know that if I’m at the top in my skills and my shape that I will do great work. This is my goal right now. I’m in better shape than I ever was and that’s everything that matters to me.”
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena