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Valentina Shevchenko explains Paige VanZant beef, flyweight plans

Paige VanZant tweeted last month that her next fight would be for the UFC women’s flyweight title. Valentina Shevchenko wasn’t having any of that.

Shevchenko, not known for sparring with fellow fighters outside of the cage or practice room, shot back at VanZant on Twitter that “PVZ” should fight her first before getting a title shot. Shevchenko, a former title contender at bantamweight, will be moving down to 125 starting next year.

On Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani, Shevchenko laid out why she had such a reaction to VanZant’s social-media posting. “Bullet” thought VanZant should have done a better job explaining why she deserved a fight for the belt.

“You have to respond for your work,” Shevchenko said. “It’s not only that you can put whatever you want. No, you have to respond for it. If you’re saying, ‘I will fight for the title,’ explain why. Explain why and then show the people you deserve it. This is my reason. It’s not just throwing words in the wind like nothing.”

Shevchenko said she was offered a fight against VanZant, but VanZant turned it down. Last week on The MMA Hour, VanZant said she was never offered that fight.

“Now she will say whatever she wants, but it doesn’t matter for me,” Shevchenko said. “I never think about opponents in front of me for the title.”

Shevchenko vs. VanZant never seemed likely. Shevchenko said she would rather fight for the title fight. Nicco Montaño won the belt by beating Roxanne Modafferi by unanimous decision last Friday at the TUF 26 Finale in Las Vegas. But Shevchenko isn’t sure if Montaño will be ready early in 2018 when she hopes to make her UFC debut at 125.

“Of course, to me it’s number one to fight for the title again, but now at 125,” Shevchenko said. “It doesn't matter to me if i have to have one fight before it. I will do it. But my main goal is to be the champion. It doesn’t matter. i moved from 135 to 125, my goal is still the same — to be the champion.”

Shevchenko (14-3) lost to UFC women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes by a very close split decision at UFC 215 in September. Some felt Shevchenko won the fight and was the rightful champion. But she wants to move on from Nunes and 135 for the time being, because she feels like 125 is a more natural weight. Shevchenko cuts nothing for the 135-pound division and plans to come into fight week for her flyweight fights at around 130.

“I feel like fighting with the same-sized opponents, I will be able to show more technique from me and more skills,” she said. “This is what i want to show, a beautiful fight, beautiful technique and good heart.”

That does not mean she is ruling out a return to 135 at some point. The loss to Nunes, her second one, still stings.

“Of course, it’s on my mind every time,” Shevchenko said. “We have unfinished business with Amanda. But now, my focus is 125 and after I sure 100 percent that we will come back and speak with her again.”

Shevchenko, 29, said she isn’t sure who her opponent early next year will be yet and it’s difficult to determine because the flyweight division is not fully formed yet. Shevchenko said she expects fighters will come down from bantamweight and up from strawweight and others will come from outside the UFC.

What is certain is that Shevchenko will not be fighting VanZant, who takes on Jessica-Rose Clark next month at UFC St. Louis. VanZant is not getting the title fight she said she would on social media, after all.

Shevchenko is OK with that.

“If you are saying something and you are sure about, ‘OK I will fight for the title next,’ you have to prove that you are deserving,” Shevchenko said. “You have to fight with the best ones. And if you want the title, you have to fight top-level opponents.”

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