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Valentina Shevchenko planning long title reign, but still has ‘unfinished business’ with Amanda Nunes

Valentina Shevchenko defeated Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 231.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

TORONTO — Over a year has passed since the UFC first created its 125-pound women’s title, and still the belt has yet to be defended. Valentina Shevchenko intends to change that.

Shevchenko captured the vacant flyweight strap on Saturday night at UFC 231 with a dominant decision over Joanna Jedrzejczyk at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The win ended a long and frustrating road to gold for Shevchenko after her expected title challenges against Nicco Montano failed to come together throughout all of 2018. And now the 30-year-old champion plans to make the 125-pound belt one of the more active UFC titles in rotation once the calendar hits 2019.

“I don’t care who will be my next opponent. I’m ready for anyone, and this is what I want to do — to defend the belt as much as I can,” Shevchenko said Saturday at the UFC 231 post-fight press conference. “I’m healthy now. I didn’t get any hard injuries and [I want to] just straight go to the busy work again, because I don’t like to spend the time and say, ‘Okay, I’m champion and I keep my belt for a year doing nothing, just saying hello to the media and showing the belt.’ No, I want action. For me, that’s more important.

“I had to wait on the fight, when it will happen with my opponent (Montano) who was holding the belt. Now I’m the champion, I can choose the date.”

Shevchenko may already have her next opponent lined up. Flyweight veteran Jessica Eye took a split decision over Katlyn Chookagian on UFC 231’s undercard to extend her current streak to 3-0 at 125 pounds and seemingly secure her spot as the division’s No. 1 contender.

But there are other names on the horizon as well, including Shevchenko’s older sister Antonina, who recently debuted in the UFC with a decision win over Ji Yeon Kim.

The Shevchenko sisters have both made it exceedingly clear that they will never fight each other, so it’s not surprising that Valentina already has a plan in place for when Antonina is able to work her way up the divisional ladder — and that plan includes traveling back up to bantamweight to challenge a familiar foe.

“My thoughts on it, I will keep this belt [while] she goes all the way to the No. 1 contender, and then I will see what I’m going to do,” Shevchenko said. “Because I still have unfinished business with my opponent at bantamweight (UFC champion Amanda Nunes). I know exactly I never lost that fight, and she knows that she was not the winner of that fight. And we’ll see, we’ll see. Just waiting for my sister, when she climbs up to No. 1.”

Shevchenko is 0-2 against Nunes but most recently lost a controversial affair to the Brazilian champion at UFC 215. That’s a fight Shevchenko still wants back.

As for Montano, the inaugural UFC women’s flyweight champion who was stripped of her belt after being hospitalized on UFC 228 weigh-in day back in September, Shevchenko has no desire to revisit the rivalry that effectively forced her to be inactive for most of 2018.

When asked specifically if she will give a title shot to the UFC’s first-ever women’s flyweight champion, Shevchenko’s response was telling.

“Who’s that?” she said simply.

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