For many, following the latest season of the Ultimate Fighter, the current flyweight champ isn’t so much the new face of the division, as she is someone who’s keeping the belt warm. Not to slight Nicco Montano, but the 28-year-old sporting a 4-2 record has yet to gain a fraction of the experience – and still lacks much of the polish – of former bantamweight title contender Valentina Shevchenko.
‘Bullet’ may only be a year Montano’s senior, but a long kickboxing and Muay Thai career, and a 14-3 record in MMA have made her one of the most technical and poised talents in women’s mixed martial arts. Shevchenko is coming off a close, split decision loss to Amanda Nunes, at UFC 215 back in September. And while she was just a hairsbreadth from being the new bantamweight champion, she’s decided to make the drop to flyweight (transcript via MMA Fighting).
“Of course, to me it’s number one to fight for the title again, but now at 125,” Shevchenko said in a recent interview with Ariel Helwani on the MMA Hour. “It doesn't matter to me if i have to have one fight before it. I will do it. But my main goal is to be the champion. It doesn’t matter. I moved from 135 to 125, my goal is still the same – to be the champion.”
“I feel like fighting with the same-sized opponents, I will be able to show more technique from me and more skills,” she said. “This is what I want to show, a beautiful fight, beautiful technique and good heart.”
Shevchenko noted that she had accepted an offer to fight Paige VanZant in her flyweight debut, but the former strawweight and Team Alpha Male talent had apparently turned down the offer. Instead, current reports have Shevchenko getting her first bout at 125 against promotional newcomer Priscila Cachoeira, on the upcoming UFC Fight Night card in Belem, Brazil. Cachoeira had been scheduled to fight Lauren Murphy on the TUF 26 Finale, before visa issues saw her pulled from the card.
It’s a high-risk fight for Shevchenko to take, as Cachoeira is a promising, but entirely unknown prospect. However, the reward for winning would likely be the next shot at the flyweight title. Shevchenko is far and away best positioned to be the new division’s top contender. All that doesn’t mean that the Kyrgyzstani-born athlete is leaving the bantamweight division behind for good, though. After all, she still has to wrap things up with Nunes.
“Of course, it’s on my mind every time,” Shevchenko said, in reference to her recent title fight loss. “We have unfinished business with Amanda. But now, my focus is 125 and after I sure 100 percent that we will come back and speak with her again.”
Shevchenko vs. Cachoeira is not yet official. UFC Belem takes place on February 3rd, at the Mangueirinho Arena. A middleweight bout between Thiago Santos and Anthony Smith is expected for the event. A main event has not yet been announced.