It was a back-and-forth grudge match through all five rounds but Shevchenko’s surge in the latter half of the fight helped her secure the victory, although she had to gut out a split decision on the scorecards. Two judges gave Shevchenko the fight with scores reading 49-46 and 48-47 with the third official giving Santos the fight with a 48-47 scorecard.
That was still enough for Shevchenko to remain champion as she breaks the all-time record for title defenses in the UFC women’s divisions with seven in a row, which snaps Ronda Rousey’s previous achievement with six straight.
“This is a true championship mind that you’re never satisfied with your performance,” Shevchenko said. “I left my heart in this octagon. I left my heart in here. I want to keep going. I want to keep improving. I want to keep fighting no matter who, bantamweight, flyweight, I’m here. Just bring it on.”
Methodical like always, Shevchenko took her time at the start of the fight as she picked her strikes before eventually moving into clinch as she looked to put pressure on Santos against the cage. Just as Shevchenko looked for a takedown, Santos slipped free and during the scramble she managed to take the champion’s back.
From there, Santos was constantly threatening with a rear-naked choke as Shevchenko was stuck playing defense, which has been a rare moment during her reign atop the flyweight division.
With her confidence surging, Santos looked to duplicate her early success as the fight moved into the second round as she landed a takedown on Shevchenko to start working from the top position. Never one to stay dormant in any position, Shevchenko started threatening from the bottom with submission attempts until a stall in the action led the referee to stand the fight back up again.
Still, Santos was proving she could hang with Shevchenko when applying her grappling game.
With the action moving into the championship rounds, Shevchenko had to alter her strategy by concentrating on her striking and that started to pay dividends. Santos was also dealing with significant swelling around her right eye, which was caused due to an accidental clash of heads earlier in the fight.
Regardless of how it happened, Shevchenko began focusing her attacks on that side of the head and body because Santos was obviously struggling to see what was coming at her. Shevchenko continued putting pressure on Santos with her slick combinations as she looked to maintain momentum heading into the final five minutes.
A late takedown from Shevchenko allowed her to put some pressure on Santos as she looked to rack up some control time before the final horn sounded.
While it was close throughout, Shevchenko’s ability to add up damage on the feet along with some well-timed submission attempts allowed her to win the decision to keep her belt. Despite the result, Santos had no argument about the loss, although she promised to see Shevchenko again one day.
“I’m still young,” Santos said. “I can’t complain about decisions but this is not the last time you’re going to see me fighting for a belt. I’m here, I’m ready for the next one.”