Over a decade ago, Valentina Shevchenko was in the midst of an MMA hiatus, instead operating in Muay Thai and on three occasions, defeating Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Back then, the future UFC Champion was still years away from her MMA debut but by the time Shevchenko arrived in the octagon, Jedrzejczyk was the Strawweight titleholder with two defenses under her belt. In truth, those past three fights weren't particularly relevant, instead simply acting as a fact that on paper alone, bolstered the interest surrounding ‘The Bullet’s UFC debut.
Shevchenko’s newcomer status wasn't the only reason it didn't matter either, with her initially operating at 135lbs in comparison to Joanna’s 115lbs dominance. Either way, Shevchenko’s debut was a successful one, entering on short notice for an impressive points win over Sarah Kaufman. Immediately featured on the Bantamweight rankings following that victory, Shevchenko quickly got another opportunity, taking on Amanda Nunes in a bout that in hindsight, proved pivotal for the division’s future. After clearly winning the 3rd round, Shevchenko’s relatively slow start proved costly, coming out on the losing end of a unanimous decision defeat.
Even with the loss, Shevchenko’s performance was certainly impressive and considering Nunes’ dominant title win just months later, her stock only continued to rise. Speaking of such, Shevchenko’s next outing would take place just two weeks after Nunes’ triumph, taking on former champion Holly Holm in a clash of highly decorated strikers. In a breakout showing, Shevchenko out-struck the revered Holm, coming out with a unanimous decision win that skyrocketed her up the division’s ranks. With title contention looming, Shevchenko next got a chance to secure her shot, taking on Julianna Pena in another UFC on FOX main event.
Highlighting her well-roundedness, Shevchenko submitted Pena with an armbar in the 2nd round, making it two headline wins straight. That result confirmed what seemed inevitable, a Shevchenko – Nunes rematch with the Bantamweight title on the line. A fight day cancellation would delay that reality but in September 2017, it’d come to fruition. In yet another back and forth affair, Shevchenko once again took Nunes the distance but just like last time, she’d fail to get the decision. This result was more contested than its predecessor and that showed in the split verdict but either way, Shevchenko still wasn't leaving with UFC gold.
Almost immediately after that result had settled, Shevchenko’s much anticipated move back to Flyweight began to take shape. Fighting Priscila Cachoeira in her 125lbs return, Shevchenko violently battered her overmatched foe, scoring a 2nd round submission to immediately position herself for another title opportunity. Once again though, Shevchenko would fall victim to a late cancellation, with Nicco Montano’s struggles with the weight costing her the fight as well as her title. While certainly frustrated by the delay, Shevchenko’s standing went unchanged, remaining in position to fight for the now vacant Flyweight title.
Chaos would continue to surround the title from there but almost three months later, Shevchenko finds herself in a familiar position. With the original choice now rebooked, Shevchenko’s opponent is also a familiar face, taking on old foe Joanna Jedrzejczyk for the UFC crown. What was once simply a fact from their past has now become the central factor for a fight’s intrigue, a clash of the sport’s finest strikers but more than that, one with history. It’s a unique fight in that sense, with Shevchenko’s three prior wins proving an almost contrast to their individual standing among the sport’s elite.
Valentina Shevchenko has been a tremendous success since arriving in the UFC but for the most part, it feels as though it’s somewhat gone under the radar regardless of card placement. On the other hand, Joanna almost feels like a part of the UFC’s fabric, only recently being dethroned after a memorable stint as Strawweight champion. For Jedrzejczyk, this fight is simply the start of a new chapter, the follow-up to a run quite iconic run of dominance. With Shevchenko though, this fight is the chance to erase that prior title fight disappointment, a chance to at last, secure a legacy-shifting success.
Considering that, this is a rather special moment in ‘The Bullet’s career, a full-circle moment in which the biggest fight of her life is quite incredibly against a woman that once upon a time, she beat on three separate occasions. In truth though, that was a lifetime ago and its impact will likely be decided by Joanna herself but with that past swept aside, this is still an undeniably brilliant fight for the struggling Women’s Flyweight division. It’s not been an exactly storybook start for the division thus far but on Saturday night, two of MMA’s greatest strikers will likely turn the tide.
Just a few years ago, this was a tale from the past, a unique link between two fighters divisions apart. Just a couple results quickly shifted that though and suddenly, we are now just days away from a pivotal title clash that for Shevchenko, means everything. While her skill is undeniable, Shevchenko stands at a crossroads of sorts, one result away from either end of her career’s spectrum. Now operating at her optimal weight, a second title loss would indefinitely stall Shevchenko’s title hopes but with a win, Valentina stands on top of a division that frankly, she could make her own.
That process all starts this Saturday though, as Joanna Jedrzejczyk certainly isn’t Priscila Cachoeira and more than that, she enters with almost unmatched title fight experience also. For Shevchenko though, she has some pretty good experience with this matchup herself and at UFC 231, she’ll be looking to ensure that with the MMA world watching, history repeats itself once again.
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