Women's bantamweight has been a wasteland when it comes to new talent. The last fighter to make her debut at 135 lbs in the UFC? Holly Holm... That's right, a new women's bantamweight hasn't stepped foot in the Octagon since Holly Holm made her debut. Since that time, Holm has fought twice more, and picked up the UFC championship along the way. The last woman to actually be signed, Marion Reneau, back on December 9th of last year. So, it's been more than 12 months since we got a fresh injection of talent into a division that has largely served as the home to Ronda Rousey and little else. It's past time.
On that note, an injury to Germaine de Randamie just two weeks out from UFC on Fox 17 has prompted Zuffa to actually go out and grab some new talent. The promotion announced the signing of Valentina Shevchenko via press release late last week, so...
Who is Valentina Shevchenko?
The UFC's first Kyrgyzstan-born fighter comes to the promotion from her current home in Lima, Peru. The 27-year old "Bullet" trains out of Tiger Muay Thai, alongside Zubaira Tukhugov, Mairbek Taisumov, and a host of other non-UFC MMA talent out in Thailand, and Team Bali Muay Thai in Indonesia . In preperation for her UFC debut, she's also been training out of Gracie Barra Orlando, and has trained with Gracie Barra Houston in the past, most likely for her Legacy FC bouts. Shevchenko has a long history as a pro kickboxer and holds a record of 60-2 having claimed Kunlun, K-1, and WAKO titles along the way.
She's not a newcomer to MMA, having first started her career back in 2003, but she's had several large gaps in MMA competition (the largest from 2006-2010), as she's split her time between MMA and kickboxing. Her most notable win to date came in her last bout, where she defeated former Strikeforce fighter Jan Finney (herself coming off a 3-year hiatus from competition). Shevchenko also has a 2010 loss to former UFC title challenger Liz Carmouche. Otherwise her level of competition is what you'd expect for a regional WMMA fighter, which is to say, exceptionally weak. Alongside her kickboxing and MMA careers, Shevchenko has also competed as a professional boxer.
What you should expect:
In her standup, Shevchenko is something of an exemplary case of Muay Thai in MMA. Not to say that she's going to be an amazing force because of it, but that her game is very very tailored to Muay Thai. She throws a lot of kick focused combinations, and has really amazingly fast reflexes in her legs. Her boxing isn't perfect for MMA, but it's not bad at all. She throws a strong 1-2, occasionally sits down on some longer combinations, and is very quick to initiate a clinch when possible. She throws hard knees there, and generally seems to make decent use of it as a weapon. But, along with her upright stance, it could end up being a problem against very wrestling focused opponents. Still, she moves well defensively, both with footwork and head movement. Without quite as much emphasis on high amplitude techniques, her game reminds me a bit of Edson Barboza's early UFC fights.
Because she seems to be a generally phenomenal athlete (and one who has been splitting training between Thailand, Indonesia, and Russia since she was 12), Shevchenko's takedown defense is a lot better than it might otherwise be on techniques alone. She's great at moving her hips with takedowns and reversing the momentum of her opponents. Most likely due to her extensive Muay Thai career, she actually has a terrific clinch takedown game, hitting foot sweeps and trips with body locks and underhooks. In general, her strong clinch game and great offensive skills make her a much more reliable sprawl and brawl fighter than most WMMA fighters without a strong wrestling base. From top position, Shevchenko is a good, active GnP fighter, working in volume and landing solid shots from all positions. She tends to stall more than anything when on the bottom, which could be a big problem depending on the matchup, but she has the athletic ability to scramble well if she can focus on it.
What this means for her debut:
Honestly, this makes her debut surprisingly competitive. Shevchenko is the better kicker between herself and Kaufman, with Kaufman generally being the more nuanced boxer. Neither woman is a big knockout threat, but both work in volume. If this weren't short notice, and if Kaufman weren't so tough to out-point in straight-forward standup fights, I might give Shevchenko a pretty reasonable shot at a win. As it is, I expect this to be a surprisingly competitive bout and hopefully not too much of a grind if they get locked into extended clinch battles.
To get us better acquainted, here's video of Shevchenko's last MMA bout against Jan Finney at Legacy FC 39: