It’s anyone’s guess as to who’s next to challenge Valentina Shevchenko and the champion is as stumped as anyone.
Arguably the UFC’s most dominant current champion, “Bullet” dispatched another foe in short order at UFC 261 on Saturday in Jacksonville, Fla., methodically out-grappling Jessica Andrade before finishing with ground-and-pound in round two. Andrade has been one of the most feared fighters in three different divisions, but Shevchenko completely outclassed her as she has all of her opponents at 125 pounds.
So what’s next for her after a fifth straight successful defense of the flyweight title?
“I don’t know, for me it seems very simple when you’re like, ‘Okay, this name, that name,’” Shevchenko said at the evening’s post-fight press conference. “It’s like everyone does that, the names. I want to do something different. I want to just continue showing and being a real martial artist. Not someone who, ‘Okay, this name is convenient, like it’s bringing more stuff. And this one is not so.’ I just don’t like these things. I want to be very honest in what I do and just continue what I do in my weight class and my division. It doesn’t matter who’s gonna be in front of me, I just want to fight them to prove that I’m better.
“I really like how this fight played before the fight, when people created so much interest about like, ‘Jessica, she brings so much’ and even some people were doubting if I could handle it. But from one point, I just didn’t want to say anything before the fight, I really liked it because from one side it created some kind of interest for the fight and everyone like, ‘Maybe this is something.’ But I was so sure in my power, what I can do, and what I can bring, that’s why I was like, okay, it’s going to be a surprise for you, I will let you believe in your power.”
Though Shevchenko drew motivation from the thought that Andrade might actually be a threat to her, she insists that she still maintained her cool especially when it came to the actual fight. A champion in kickboxing and muay Thai, Shevchenko prides herself on her versatility and in proving that she has few weaknesses (if any).
She admitted that she also got a boost from the crowd at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla., the first sold-out arena for the UFC since the outbreak of COVID-19 in March of last year.
“I try to not bring any emotional things inside of the fight,” Shevchenko said when asked if she was angry going into Saturday’s fight. “I felt more it’s about fans. They bring me this feeling that I had today. Like I said, my energy just strike all the way up and I was like, ‘Okay!’
“It’s kind of interesting, if you could see like fights that I had before, for example when I fought Holly Holm everybody was thinking that she’s gonna out-strike me. No, my body decides I will out-strike her. When I fought Julianna Pena, everyone said, ‘It’s gonna be a submission. If they go to the ground, Julianna’s going to submit her.’ No, I submit her. So my body decided, not me. I just prepare for doing this.”
Shevchenko has been such an unrelenting force at 125 pounds, it’s difficult to foresee who could be worthy of challenging her next even with contenders Lauren Murphy, Joanne Calderwood, and Viviane Araujo looking to cement their case in the next few months. A trilogy bout with two-division champion Amanda Nunes seems inevitable given that they’re firmly entrenched at the top of the women’s pound-for-pound rankings.
Nunes holds two decision wins over Shevchenko, but their most recent fight was over three years ago and both bouts took place at 135 pounds. Shevchenko was competitive in those two fights and while she’s not chasing another chance to beat Nunes, she thinks the trilogy bout is inevitable.
“I can say exactly about my fighting career, it’s not gonna [be] over soon,” Shevchenko said. “I plan to fight for a long time. I think that this fight is just going to happen. I’m not going to push it like, give me Amanda right now, I’m gonna break her face. I’m not gonna say it because I know this fight’s gonna happen. It’s gonna happen just literally when everyone will feel like there is no more, only this fight makes sense for everyone.
“When all the fans are like, ‘We want this. We want to see this fight.’ When the UFC and Dana White are like, ‘We just need this fight.’ I think that when it’s time to happen, it’s gonna be something big and huge and I will be ready for this. I’m already ready for this, but I will make sure to gain some pounds back.”
Pressed for a name, Shevchenko stuck to her guns and said she’ll have to wait and see what names emerge over the next few months. Besides, with her sights squarely set on Andrade for the past few months, she hasn’t even kept up with the rest of the flyweight landscape.
“I know right now everyone wants to hear a name straight after the fight, like give me the next name,” Shevchenko said. “But it’s hard for me to do right now because when I prepared for Jessica, I was thinking only about Jessica. I even don’t know who’s going to fight in my flyweight division next. I don’t know who’s next fighting because I was so focused on my fight. Now I go home tomorrow and I will start to see what’s happening in flyweight.”