One of the prevailing narratives to emerge from Valentina Shevchenko’s dominant win at UFC Belem was not only how good Shevchenko looked in her 125-pound debut — she looked like a destroyer of worlds — but also whether the former bantamweight title challenger’s over-matched opponent, Priscila Cachoeira, should have been saved from a grisly, nearly 10-minute beating by her coaches and cornermen.
The striking stats alone told the tale. Cachoeira, a UFC newcomer, was outstruck by an unimaginable margin of 230-3 against Shevchenko, the previously No. 1 ranked bantamweight in the world. Cachoeira also suffered a torn ACL and meniscus in her right knee in the opening minutes of the fight, further limiting her abilities in a contest she ultimately — mercifully — lost via second-round rear-naked choke.
But despite the lopsided nature of the fight in virtually every regard, Cachoeira defended her coaches’ unwillingness to throw in the towel early.
And Shevchenko, a veteran of nearly 80 combined matches across boxing, kickboxing, and MMA, can see exactly where Cachoeira is coming from.
“It’s all about the team, and the fighter and her team,” Shevchenko said Monday on The MMA Hour.
“[Throwing in the towel] is not what I was thinking, because if I see from my point of view, I will fight until the end. I will fight until the end. If my corner would be saying, ‘We’ll throw the towel,’ I would say, ‘No, no, I don’t want (that).’ Because I think this is the nature of the fighter, because he or she, we want to leave from us everything (in the cage) until the very, very end point.”
The practice of throwing in the towel is one that is commonplace in boxing, a sport where coaches will often end a fight prematurely if they sense their fighter is floundering or en route to sustaining unnecessary damage. But for some reason, the practice has never truly taken root in MMA — much to the chagrin of many critics — instead being commonly looked down upon by fighters and trainers while drawing an unfair stigma among many circles as “quitting.”
Still, Cachoeira’s cornermen were not the only ones who received criticism for their inaction at UFC Belem.
Embattled referee Mario Yamasaki got the brunt of the criticism post-fight for his repeated unwillingness to stop the contest despite Cachoeira being obviously out of her depth in such a one-sided affair.
As the woman who was tasked with delivering the damage to Cachoeira, and someone who has yet to watch the fight back, Shevchenko held back on joining that criticism of Yamasaki, instead saying that she was simply trying to do her job by ensuring that a stoppage from Yamasaki would eventually come.
“When I am inside of the Octagon, I go there and I will not stop before someone stops me. And (if) I feel that I have to continue, I will continue with all my power,” Shevchenko said. “And of course I was feeling that this is a moment, it will end soon. And when Mario, for Priscila, he said, ‘If you do not move, I will stop the fight’ — in this moment, she started trying to escape and do everything.
“Before the last minute, the last second, she was trying to escape, and it doesn’t matter — she was receiving (punches) hard but she was trying to do something. And that moment, I was thinking, okay, if it’s not stopped with just punching, then I went for the submission and I just continued, because in my mind, like a fighter, I have to do everything to finish my fight.”
Shevchenko also declined to go as far as her promoter, UFC president Dana White, who issued a scathing review of Yamasaki’s “disgusting” performance on social media and fumed that Yamasaki “hopefully will never set foot in that Octagon again.”
“I’m a fighter. I’m not a referee, I’m not a judge. I do my job, and the referees and judges, they do their jobs,” Shevchenko said. “For example, before the fight, Mario, he came to our changing room and explained the rules, what he will do in case (something happens), and he said, ... ‘While you are moving and trying to protect (yourself), I will keep the fight going.’ And this is what I think it was in the fight, because Priscila, she had good [heart] and she didn’t want to quit, and she wasn’t laying there and saying, ‘Someone please help me.’ No, she was trying to do something, something every time.
“During my stay in Brazil in Belem, during the 10 days, I [watched] a lot of fights, what they’re doing in Rio de Janeiro, and they have their style: Like, they will not stop the fight until the end, when it will be really, really, really the end,” Shevchenko added. “And maybe this point was also affecting (UFC Belem) and that’s why we were fighting more and more time. But like I was saying, I’m a fighter, I am doing my job. I go to the Octagon to destroy my opponent. And my opponent, when she goes to the Octagon, she goes to destroy me. And if I will not be like this — go with all my power and all my heart, everything — it will be some kind of risk to receive the same (kind of loss) for me. That’s why I don’t want it, and I will not stop before the referee will stop me.”
Either way, with the impressive win, Shevchenko now looks to be in pole position for the next title shot against UFC women’s flyweight champion Nicco Montano.
And Shevchenko made sure to give her previously unbeaten Brazilian foe words of encouragement after an extremely discouraging Octagon debut.
“I just wished her great luck in her MMA career,” Shevchenko said of Cachoeira. “I knew that this was the very first fight in the UFC for her, and she has a very talented future, so with a lot more dedication and more training, she will have a lot of success in her future in the UFC, and just to continue fighting and continue training and do what she has to do, and just keep going forward.”