EDMONTON, Alberta -- Sometimes, the fight doesn’t play out like it reads on paper.
The UFC 215 main event between women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes and challenger Valentina Shevchenko figured to be a barnburner. After all, their first fight last year was exciting, and both have only gotten better since.
Instead, Saturday night’s rematch turned into a tactical affair, one in which several of the rounds could have been scored either way.
The champion, however, saved her best for last in the fifth, and that was enough to retain her crown. Nunes retained the belt via split decision at Rogers Place, earning two out of three 48-47 judges’ scores.
The opening rounds saw both fighters try to figure out one another’s range. While there wasn’t much in the way of exchanges, Nunes landed the better shots.
Nunes had a reputation for starting fast and then gassing, so it appeared she was attempting to preserve energy. The second was another tight affair, very likely won by Shevchenko when she scored with a wicked combo in the round’s closing seconds.
Shevchenko often fought from a stationary position, which left her susceptible to leg kicks, of which Nunes threw many. The third and fourth were both pick ‘em rounds. The crowd got restless, at one point starting a “Let’s go Oilers” chant, in reference to the hometown NHL team.
In the final round, Nunes showed more urgency, as she pushed forward, engaged in the clinch, and scored a pair of takedowns.
Nunes, a Brazilian who is now part of American Top Team, improved to 15-4 with her sixth consecutive win. She didn’t see any controversy in the decision.
“I didn’t think it was close,” she said. “I thought it was a clear victory for me. She landed a few good punches but I dominated the rounds and, in the last round, I took her down and kept her there to seal the deal. This whole camp, I focused on going five rounds and that’s why I was ready to control the later parts of the fight.”
Shevchenko (14-3) is 7-2 in his past nine, with both losses to Nunes. Needless to say, she didn’t agree with the judges’ call.
“I always respect the judges but I totally disagree with the decision tonight,” Shevchenko said. “I won rounds two, three and four and her takedowns were not effective. I will be back to fight for the belt again because that is my belt!”
The rematch was orginally scheduled for UFC 213 in July. But Nunes pulled out of the fight the day of the card with sinusitis. It was then set to be the co-feature bout on Saturday night’s card, but was elevated to the main-event position after the flyweight title fight between Demetrious Johnson and challenger Ray Borg was called off due to a Borg illness.