Valentina Shevchenko doesn’t have time for this talk of being “exposed” by Taila Santos.
At UFC 275, Shevchenko had one of the toughest fights of her career, narrowly edging out a split decision win over Santos. In the aftermath, a number of rising flyweight contenders, including Maycee Barber and Casey O’Neill, suggested that Santos revealed a blueprint to beat Shevchenko and that they would be the ones to finally unseat the champion. But “Bullet” is paying them no heed.
“The trash-talkers like Casey [O’Neil] and Maycee Barber, don’t give food for them, just let them speak something bad about someone because I think this is their energy,” Shevchenko said Wednesday on The MMA Hour. “If they don’t talk something bad or something ugly, they feel sad in life. So this is why I feel they felt they had to say something. For example, Maycee just came back from her injury, Casey she doesn’t have much to do just to speak because she’s injured.
“I think it’s the same that it was before. They can think whatever they want, but it’s one thing to pretend that they know and another thing to be inside of the octagon and try it and do it and make it [real]. Yes, they can work on their things, but it will never work because every time I will find the way to win and continue winning, and defend my flyweight [title]. Because you see it, but before you feel it, you never know it.”
Barber and O’Neill are far from the only ones who believe the Santos fight revealed weakness in the champion, as a number of fighters believe Santos was robbed of the decision. But the champion believes her performance revealed her strength, not any weakness.
“It was a good fight. Taila, she’s a good opponent, strong opponent,” Shevchenko said. “I’m glad it was a challenging fight, I’m glad that I could prove that no matter what I can overcome any kind of situation. It’s not only about technique, it’s about mental game, it’s about toughness. No matter what and how, you still have to find a way to win the fight. This is my mindset and I’m very glad I could show that.”
One of the big points of contention with the fight is an accidental head butt that occurred in the fourth round and broke Santos’ orbital bone.
Some pundits, like Daniel Cormier, suggested that Shevchenko only managed to retain her title as a result of the blow, which only added fuel to the criticism “Bullet” is now facing. But the champion disputes that as being the determining factor in her win.
“I don’t think this was a thing that affected her very much,” Shevchenko said. “I think a combination of every punch that I threw, it was affecting, because I saw on replay the clash of heads and it was accidental. It could go either way. It could affect her, it could affect me. You never know in the fight because no one is wearing head protection. But there wasn’t something too big or too hard. On the replay it doesn’t show [that].
“Even after that, it was more combinations from me and one very strong head kick. After that head kick, I felt that she got knocked down. I don’t know why but the referee stopped the fight after that kick and [separated us]. I don’t know what it was but he stopped the fight, and I thought if he didn’t stop it, after my head kick, I could finish her in the fourth round, because I felt it was strong and affected her.”
The head kick Shevchenko is referring to landed early in the fourth round, but did so immediately after Shevchenko landed a low blow to Santos. Referee Jason Herzog intervened and the bout got restarted soon after.
Regardless of what led to the change in momentum, Shevchenko retained her title and her position as the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world. And while talk before UFC 275 was that Shevchenko might move up to challenge for the bantamweight title next, “Bullet” says that this new criticism has given her fuel to prove a point in the division she still reigns over.
“I think for now, next fight is going to be next title defense for the flyweight division,” Shevchenko said. “Especially now because right now you can really see how many strong opponents and strong contenders in flyweight. Especially now because people are like, ‘Oh my God, this is the blueprint’ or whatever, and I feel obligated in the next fight to show it’s still your thoughts but not truth.”