Valentina Shevchenko is finally a UFC champion.
Shevchenko has been through fight cancellations and close calls across two weight classes during her UFC career before finally having a title belt wrapped around her waist on Saturday night.
Shevchenko dominated game-but-undersized former strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk to claim the vacant flyweight championship in the co-feature bout of UFC 231. The judges’ scores at Scotiabank Arena were 49-46 across the board for a unanimous decision.
“You know I was waiting so long for this moment, it’s a magic word that I’ve wanted to hear from so long ago,” Shevchenko said after the fight.
Shevchenko, a former bantamweight, utilized her size advantage from the outset against the former 115-pound titleholder. She scored a big takedown and worked from side control. Jedrzejczyk got back to her feet, but Shevchenko continued to outgrapple her, and punctuated her efforts with a picture perfect spinning back kick to the body late.
In the second round, Jedrzejczyk managed to have her moments in the standup as she kept Shevchenko honest. But Shevchenko landed two takedowns, the latter of which was a crisp throw, and dominated the rest of the round from the top.
Jerdzejczyk did a better job sprawling her opponent’s takedown attempts in the third, and also got her foes attention with a head kick, but Shevchenko landed sharp knees and finally got a takedown in the round’s last half-minute.
In the fourth, Jedrzejczyk seemed to sense she needed to turn the tide, as she picked up the pace with her striking, but that simply caused Shevchenko to go right back to the takedown and her grappling game. The fifth round wasn’t all that much different.
The win ended a long saga for Shevchenko, who was scheduled to fight Amanda Nunes for the bantamweight belt at UFC 213, just to have Nunes pull out the day of the fight. They finally got in the cage at UFC 215, a bout Shevchenko lost on a razor-thin, much-debated split decision.
Then the flyweight title was vacated when the inaugural champion, Nicco Montano, was stripped of the title for failing to weigh in for a scheduled fight with Shevchenko at UFC 228 in September. Shevchenko was briefly believed to be fighting Sijara Eubanks for the belt at UFC 230 before the Jedrzejczyk fight was finalized.
The duo had also competed three times on the kickboxing circuit, with Shevchenko winning all three bouts in the squared circle.
“It is more better for me to win the bout in this type of fight than any other opponent,” Shevchenko said, showing respect to her longtime rival.
With the victory, Shevchenko improved to 16-3, with two straight wins and five in her past six. Jedrzejczyk (15-3) has now dropped three of her past four, with all three defeats in championship fights.