Holly Holm and Valentina Shevcehnko try to clarify the women's division this July 23, 2016 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois.
Record: Holly Holm 10-1 Valentina Shevchenko 12-2
Odds: Holly Holm -225 Valentina Shevchenko +185
History / Introduction to both fighters
David: I feel like Holm's ascent never even started. A handful of mostly forgettable fights, a massive upset later, and it's like we're at the end of Act 1. Critically, Holm's in a tough position. It's quite possible her matchup with Rousey was just a little too good. She'll never be as stylistically dominant over another opponent in proportion to Rousey. So anyone feeling skeptical she can win this bout need not feel embarrassed. She certainly won't disappear from the division or anything. But there's nothing easy about this weekend's bout.
Phil: This is of the problems with maintaining interest among the literally hundreds of fighters on the UFC roster- consistency is at a premium. If you offer a potential fan a view of Holm as hyped-up pro boxer, then boring decision machine, then inspiring underdog, then puzzling loser, then that fan is likely just going to throw their hands up in the air and give up at some point, unable to keep a grip on the thrashing narrative. This is amplified by the way that the way that Holm is quiet and respectful outside the cage, and not exactly a firebrand inside it, either.
David: Shevchenko shares a lot of similarities to Holm. The sheer force of her technique and experience carried her comfortably through the division, and eventually past a high profile veteran (Kaufman). Now she finds herself fighting this year's former bantamweight champion. Like Holm, her career feels both fast forwarded, and rewound. The good news for Shevchenko is that just as Holm compared favorably to Rousey in some ways, so too, does Shevchenko.
Phil: As the level of skill at women's bantamweight rises, there are two basic groups who are primed to take advantage: the quality athletes (Pena, Nunes etc) and those who have a technical base which fits the shift away from clinch-grappling and towards stand-up and distance maintenance (de Randamie, Holm and, yep, Shevchenko). This is a chance for her to make a significant step forward. I'm less sure whether it's favourable, though: I think Shevchenko's counter game will work a lot more effectively (and memorably) against the sloppier fighters in the division. While she doesn't have to worry much about the ground game here, she's also likely going to find herself in the kind of tactical back-and-forth that doesn't stick in the mind of the casual fan.
What's at stake?
David: More than usual. Holm losing is a massive blow to her profile. A win probably means a highly appealing fight for the title against Nunes. All the pressure's on Holm. Shevchenko is still just barely distinguishable from TBA to the casual fans at this point. Still a bright future.
Phil: As alluded to previously, a Holm loss is another step in the slightly worrying process of closing the door on everyone that the recent wave of casual fans might have heard of. Rousey? AWOL. That Zingano lady she beat in seconds? Lost. Holm? 2-fight skid. Tate? Lost. If Shevchenko wins, she moves into a divisional elite which is increasingly divorced from any level of public interest. A rematch with Nunes would be interesting from a technical perspective, but holy hell would it bomb as a title fight.
Where do they want it?
David: No secrets on this one. Holm is gonna throw some sparring like punches to support her kicks, occasionally chambering that straight left for legit violence. Even though I think Holm is overrated offensively (no matter how bad you think Rousey was in that fight, it's even worse on rewatch), I think she's underrated defensively. She's not perfect (lack of head movement, and not always a great sense of distance), but she moves her feet with great economy, allowing herself a hair's length away from danger. Raw size and strength is on her side.
Phil: Holm fights with lots and lots of risk aversion. This is partially forced by the demonstrable lack of depth to her ground game, but more than that it's just who she is. She's happy at absolute maximum range, and even a touch outside it- she'll pump strikes into the air just in front of her opponents, just to make sure that they're not going to step inside. She's big and rangy, and is quick enough to be very difficult to close down. As you said, the kicks are the real meat of her game, and it's when someone gives her the certainty that she can predict where they are that Holm truly goes to work with them.
David: Shevchenko is an adept counter striker. She favors an expertly chambered counter right hand, and likes to kick to the thigh from the outside. In addition, I like her ability to close the distance with the clinch. She moves well off her back when on the ground, but grappling will probably be an afterthought in this one. Obviously the biggest concern from analysts is how boring this fight is liable to be. With Shevchenko's preference for fighting her way into the clinch when her opponents pressure her, and Holm's outside movement, there will be undoubtedly be moments of unmitigated staring. I think their kicking games will keep it from being a complete bore though. Shevchenko has a nice array of front kicks, and leg kicks that will occupy space around the perimeter while Holm attacks. It won't be exciting, but I'm not convinced this will be Renzo vs. Ohara either.
Phil: Shevchenko doesn't throw as much as Holm, but she's much more accurate when she does; specifically with that sneaky right hook which you mentioned. There's a bit of a physicality problem here: Shevchenko is not a very big bantamweight. As such, low volume counterpunching is a tough ask. She's very strong in the clinch, though, with a nice array of outside trips. So, to beat Holm she's going to be navigating in past the kicks, and countering the punches and potentially picking up takedowns from the clinch or from caught kicks. The ability to use grappling offensively is probably Valentina's trump card here.
Insight from Past Fights
David: Machida vs. Evans. Yes, I know. Who can think of anything other than Rashad Shoop? To me that fight represents the other side of the out-fighter versus counter fighter coin. Yes, those are reductive to both men and probably way too generous to Rashad's boxing. But these fighters scout each other all the time. I think they know just how difficult it'll be to win, or accrue advantages throughout the fight with the fight templates they're accustomed to. I'd expect one of them to be a little more aggressive than usual, or if not aggressive, proactive in specific areas.
Phil: My weird pick here is Condit-Lawler. I know. I'm picking the frontrunner for fight of the year to be compared to a fight which most people think will stink. But bear with me. We're talking a tall outside Jackson's fighter to go up against a mid-range fighter who's largely going to counter, attempting to thread a shot through the marching kickboxing combinations. There are differences - namely Shevchenko's kicking and takedown game - but I think it's also notable that it was only really Lawler's ridiculous power which meant he had any chance at winning a decision in a fight where he got dramatically outlanded.
David: Probably Holm's demeanor. She had that fight with Tate wrapped up. Then one false move. Might she be more aggressive than usual? Or more tentative?
Phil: Southpaw vs southpaw? Unexpected closed-stance or open-stance matchups change fights in big ways. Shevchenko no longer lands her right hook over the opponent's shoulder, and Holm's open-stance body kick isn't available. I will say that the Jackson camp have traditionally been very good at handling matchups from both stances.
David: My issue with Shevchenko is her ability to get inside. Holm keeps her distance well, and even in the clinch, where Shevchenko is technical, Holm is strong enough to bully her way out of them. There's just no scenario I can envision where she's able to make Holm uncomfortable in the pocket. Holly Holm by Decision.
Phil: I slightly favour Holm due to her size and pace, and due to her being more of an attritional fighter- if Shevchenko pauses on the outside and takes a few kicks underneath the ribs, she could start to slow down and Holm can let loose. Should be close, it'll start cautiously, but it'll be cooking by the third round or so. Holly Holm by unanimous decision