Valentina Shevchenko is a fighting champion but she wants all of her opponents to truly earn a shot at the title before facing her.
That goes for the current crop of contenders at 125 pounds as well as reigning strawweight queen Zhang Weili, who has teased a potential move to flyweight in the future.
Last year after dismantling Jessica Andrade to win the title, Zhang mentioned Shevchenko as a future opponent she would like to face even more than a showdown against former 115-pound champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk.
In the end, Zhang signed onto face Jedrzejczyk in the co-main event at UFC 248 in March while Shevchenko is readying for a challenge against Katlyn Chookagian at UFC 247 on Feb. 8. Wins from both fighters could potentially set up another champion vs. champion fight but Shevchenko is quick to pump the brakes on Zhang’s aspirations to win a second title in the UFC.
“My thoughts on this, as you mentioned, inside 125 [pound] division, I agree to fight with anyone who goes all the way on the top, gets their position and ready for the fight, ready for the title. I accept to take anyone,” Shevchenko explained when speaking to MMA Fighting. “But you know, for example, in this situation with a different weight class it’s not just like this — I accept it, I take it.
“I think that the person who tries to get this fight has to show and prove that she’s deserving this opportunity.”
Without a title defense on her record yet, Shevchenko believes Zhang has a lot more work to do in her own division before she starts skipping the line at flyweight. In recent years, it’s become rather commonplace in the UFC lately for champions to jump divisions in an attempt to repeat what Conor McGregor did in 2016 by becoming the first fighter to hold titles in two different weight classes simultaneously.
It also seems unlikely that the UFC will abandon these kinds of marquee fights in the future but Shevchenko is steadfast in her belief that Zhang needs to prove herself at strawweight before she can even contemplate a move up to 125 pounds.
“A few months ago nobody knew the name of the Chinese girl Weili,” Shevchenko said. “I don’t know what number she was but because of lucky circumstances she became champion but she still has to prove that she is in the right place and she’s there because no one is better than her.
“Because my opinion, she still has Joanna, she’s a very hard test for her. She has Rose [Namajunas] and she’s also a very hard test for her and she has Tatiana Suarez. So before she proves that she’s better than them, I think it’s not right to jump over the stairs. It’s not right.”
Time will tell if Zhang’s wish will be granted but Shevchenko is clear that she wants to face the best flyweights in the world who have earned a shot at her belt.
“She has a lot of things to prove yet,” Shevchenko said. “I’m really open but I would say I would accept it with someone who will show that they are there [at the top].”