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Lauren Murphy on fighting ‘incredible’ Valentina Shevchenko: ‘That must be what it’s like to play one-on-one with Michael Jordan’

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Lauren Murphy now knows what it’s like to fight Valentina Shevchenko and it’s something she’ll never forget.

The pairing met in the co-main event of UFC 266 for the women’s flyweight title. Shevchenko was dominant throughout the fight en route to a fourth-round TKO victory in her sixth title defense.

Murphy was in awe of what Shevchenko was able to do inside the octagon and believes comparing the 125-pound queen to some of the legends of sport is more than fair.

“She was incredible,” Murphy said of Shevchenko when speaking with MMA Fighting. “It was pretty crazy to be in there with somebody at that level because I’ve never truly competed with anybody that level before. I don’t remember the fourth round, really, so I guess that’s pretty good.

“It’s a bummer to lose, and that’s the first time I had ever been finished. I think it was a good stoppage, I was pretty out of it by the time the ref pulled her off of me. It’s definitely not the outcome we wanted but, to be honest with you, it was pretty cool to be in there with a martial artist of her caliber. That’s a pretty cool experience. That must be what it’s like to go play one-on-one with Michael Jordan, or that’s how guys felt when they were competing with Khabib [Nurmagomedov], because it really was, ‘Holy sh*t, this girl is really on another level.’”

After winning five consecutive fights, Murphy earned her first opportunity to capture UFC gold. Being a near 10-1 underdog on some sites by fight time, “Lucky” knew that she was going to have her hands full, although she believed her grit, toughness, and ability to make fights dirty could be an advantage other challengers might not have had.

As far as the toughness goes, Murphy knew early on that the strategy probably wasn’t going to pan out.

“We got into the fight and in the first round, one of the very first exchanges, Valentina cracked me with a right hook, I think, and I remember thinking, ‘I’m not gonna be tough through that. That’s gonna hurt me. Nope, being tough was a bad idea, that’s was a bad game plan,” Murphy explained. “I couldn’t see it coming at me and that was the big problem. If you get hit by a strike that you see, that’s one thing, but for it to come out of nowhere, that was something else.

“I felt like I was really prepared for her spinning attacks, her left kick, so that kind of stuff wasn’t hurting me but that right hook hurt me, and it hurt me early so I got pretty timid. I didn’t want to get in there and mix it up. I remember at one point, I went to go do something with my jab and I extended it — it was either in the second of third round — and she kind of moved her head and ducked, looked right at me, and she had this look on her face where she just couldn’t wait for me to throw it because she had a really good counter for it. So the look on her face was like, ‘Yeah, c’mon, do it,’ then I said, ‘Nope,’ brought the hand right back. Never mind. It was wild.

“It reminded me of when Forrest Griffin fought Anderson Silva, and he said, ‘I tried to punch him, he moved his head, then he looked at me like I was stupid and he hit me back.’ That’s kind of what it was like. This must have been what it was like to fight Anderson in his prime. It’s cool to be in the presence of greatness. She’s an incredible fighter.”

Although most of fight week went according to plan, Murphy revealed to MMA Fighting that her head coach of nine fights and victories Alex Cisne tested positive for COVID-19 and would not be able to corner her in the fight. That was a devastating blow, but Murphy absolutely doesn’t offer that information as any excuse whatsoever, especially facing someone like Shevchenko.

With adversity aside, Murphy was ready to go when it was time to make the walk to the cage. When facing somebody at the level of Shevchenko, that can only take you so far.

“When I had walked out, I enjoyed the walkout, when we were being introduced, I didn’t feel too many nerves,” Murphy said. “That was all a good experience, but once the fight started, the skill level, it was just like, man, I can’t match this. When you get into a situation like that, what can you do? I fought my best, there’s nothing I could even feel bad about because we overcame all these challenges and gave it hell.

“It sucks to lose, but did I give it everything? Yeah, I think I did. Is Valentina head and shoulders above everybody in the division right now? Probably so. I can’t see anyone becoming champion while she decides to continue being the champion.”

Now that she has experienced a championship fight week, Murphy is planning on taking off the rest of the year to enjoy the holidays, visit her son, and recalibrate.

With hopes of a Spring 2022 return, Murphy is hoping to settle a divisional rivalry.

“I’d like to fight Cynthia Calvillo in March or April,” Murphy stated. “If I had my druthers, that would be the way it goes. I want to enjoy the holidays with my family. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas with no worries, and just do whatever I want.”