As proud as she is to be UFC flyweight champion, Valentina Shevchenko knows her first title reign should have come in the bantamweight division.
Back in 2017, Shevchenko fought to a razor close split decision against reigning champion Amanda Nunes at UFC 215. It was the second time she fell to Nunes after dropping a separate decision to her in a three round fight in 2016 that she nearly finished in the third and final round.
Nunes current eight fight win streak is littered with UFC Hall of Famers and former champions such as Cris Cyborg, Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate, which has earned her the unofficial title as the greatest women’s fighter of all time.
Still, Shevchenko came closer than anybody else to handing her a defeat during that run, which is why she plans to eventually challenge Nunes again in the future.
That being said, the 31-year old Kyrgyzstan native wanted nothing more since arriving in the UFC for a 125-pound division to open up and the last thing she wants to do is abandon the weight class so she can avenge two prior defeats while simultaneously chasing a second world title.
“As I’ve said before, our business that we have with Amanda [Nunes], it’s not finished,” Shevchenko said when speaking to MMAFighting ahead of her next fight at UFC 238. “Our last fight doesn’t say nothing because I’ve watched that fight and I know I won that fight. But things happened how it happened.
“For now in my head, I want to defend my belt. I want to defend it as much as I can because I was waiting for this moment when it would be my weight division. When I will feel good in my weight, in my natural weight. Now I have this opportunity. Why would I run out of it? I was waiting for this. This is it. So I’ll do my best in this weight class. For me, this is my No. 1 priority.”
This weekend, Shevchenko will look to defend her flyweight title for the first time against Jessica Eye, who is riding a three fight win streak heading into the showdown in Chicago.
Shevchenko is a massive favorite according to the sports books with most experts picking her to win against an overmatched contender, who lost four fights in a row at bantamweight before three decision victories at 125 pounds.
That means the expectations are ratcheted up when it comes to Shevchenko not to mention the old adage that a champion isn’t truly a champion until defending their belt.
“I understand why people say these things,” Shevchenko stated. “For example, some of them, they just become champions and they didn’t have the whole way in martial arts in the way that I did. I came to the UFC already a 17-time world champion in Muay Thai, MMA and kickboxing.
“So I know exactly this feeling. It’s not only difficult to win but it’s also difficult to defend. But if you know how to manage it, if you know how to make it work good, nothing scares you. I know how to do it. I know what’s really important.”
When it comes to the odds, Shevchenko doesn’t pay too much attention to the fact that most expect her to win this fight in a shutout.
She has witnessed first hand when champions begin buying into the hype and it usually costs them dearly.
In her case, Shevchenko has worked too long and too hard to give up the belt just because she was supposed to win and somehow overlooked the threat that Eye presented to her title reign.
“Sometimes when people become champions they think this is everything, this is No. 1 and if I am champion no one can hit me,” Shevchenko said. “It’s not like this. It’s a real fight. Everyone can hit you.
“That’s why you have to work and work double or maybe triple more than your opponent. This is what I’m doing.”