Valentina Shevchenko is arguably the most dominant champion on the entire UFC roster, but that kind of reputation can also serve as a double-edged sword.
She’s nearly trampled every contender thrown at her since claiming the flyweight title, but despite being an overwhelming favorite in her most recent outing, Shevchenko had to eke out a split decision to hold onto her belt in a battle with Taila Santos.
Now, as she approaches her next fight against Alexa Grasso at UFC 285, Shevchenko has suddenly started hearing that perhaps she’s lost a step, or maybe the rest of the flyweight division is finally catching up to her.
“I really don’t care what people are saying,” Shevchenko told MMA Fighting. “I know exactly what happened. The most important what has happened is inside me. I know that I’m not losing anything. I’m still the same person. I’m still the same motivated [person] and I’m still the same shape, even better shape. The proof is no matter how difficult the fight, I will find a way to be the winner. No matter who is in front of me, I will be the winner no matter what. This is the truth.
“No. 1, what I care, is what I think, what is important to me. What people think, they can think whatever. I cannot put in their heads and say what they have to say. So many people, so many opinions. One thinks like that, another thinks like that. My experience teaches me the only one important person has to be, it’s your internal feeling. I know that everything is right. That’s amazing.”
Shevchenko faced a similar reaction after she dropped a round to Jennifer Maia back in 2020 in another fight where she was a heavy favorite to win.
As if she was out to prove a point, the 34-year-old veteran from Kyrgyzstan then demolished her next two opponents with TKO finishes over Jessica Andrade and Lauren Murphy.
Maybe the same thing will happen with Grasso on Saturday. But then again, maybe not.
Shevchenko knows she won’t always dominate her opposition, especially in the UFC.
“This is martial arts and we’re speaking about the top level of competition,” Shevchenko said. “If we would go and fight in other promotions with lower quality of fighters, yeah, definitely, it will be every fight a knockout or a submission or whatever.
“But we are speaking about the highest, about the top, and it’s different. The fight is the fight, but really what’s important is how you deal with all this pressure.”
Pressure is an interesting word when it comes to Shevchenko, because just as much as she doesn’t care if there are people suddenly doubting her, she’s also not thinking much about the records she’s already set during her career or the ones she could break in the future.
For instance, Shevchenko is going for her eighth straight title defense in her fight against Grasso, which puts her just three behind the all-time record held by Demetrious Johnson (11). She’s already sitting in rarefied air, but even Shevchenko had no idea she was that close to Johnson’s record when asked about it.
“I don’t know. It’s 11, it’s how many more years I have to fight?” Shevchenko said. “Demetrious Johnson, he is an amazing fighter, and when I think about a complete fighter, a MMA fighter, I know his name is No. 1 on my mind. His speed, his technique, his power, everything, it’s just perfect.
“Definitely all these 11 title defenses, it’s something that’s crazy amazing. I really didn’t think about that. I just want to stay champion for a long time, defend my belt, and never think about numbers. If I will stay champion for a long time, the numbers will come by themselves.”
If there’s one accolade that Shevchenko still wants to chase, it’s winning a second UFC title with a potential return to bantamweight for a third fight against old rival Amanda Nunes.
It wasn’t that long ago that a trilogy between the two champions seemed very realistic, but then Nunes lost to Julianna Pena and had to win back her title while Shevchenko just continued taking out top contenders at flyweight.
Now, as she approaches her next fight at 125 pounds, Shevchenko promises she hasn’t forgotten about Nunes, even if talks about that potential matchups have slowed recently.
“It’s only because our fight it was so close, so controversial, and so fresh that people, they were continuously talking about this fight,” Shevchenko explained. “Now that time has passed, people are kind of moving on, but I am not discarding that opportunity.
“I still think it’s going to happen, and even better when it happens at the right time, the right place, and the right circumstances. I know for sure when it happens, it’s going to be super huge for female MMA. It’s going to be a big fight. Let’s wait after Saturday and see how things play out.”
Whether it’s another fight at flyweight or a rematch against Nunes next, Shevchenko promises she isn’t going anywhere.
“Martial arts is my lifestyle,” Shevchenko said. “It’s not only about just competition, it’s not just about sport. It’s the way who I am. The way how I live my life.
“For me, the most important assignment what comes, it’s not about the person or the opponent or money or something else. It’s about how do I work through this path of martial arts. How I enjoy it and I really do. I really enjoy it because I am a martial artist since day No. 1.”