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Valentina Shevchenko discusses life as UFC champion, recent trip home to Kyrgyzstan

Life has pretty much stayed the same for Valentina Shevchenko since winning the UFC women’s flyweight championship in late 2018.

Valentina Shevchenko has been enjoying life as UFC champion.

Shevchenko, who won the women’s flyweight title last year, defends it for the second time Saturday night in the UFC Uruguay main event against Liz Carmouche. “Bullet” might be a bit busier than before, but she said life has pretty much stayed the same since reaching the top of the 125-pound division eight months ago.

“I try to keep my lifestyle the same as it was before, because it shows me that my lifestyle is good for me and I can be successful with the same lifestyle,” Shevchenko told Bloody Elbow. “That’s why I haven’t changed much things. Of course, with the UFC belt, it means I get more opportunities — appearances, sponsorship, or whatever — and you have to use it. But as far as my life, what I prefer to have, it’s the same lifestyle that I had before.”

Shevchenko isn’t one to seek attention, but she won’t shy away from the spotlight if it’s placed on her either. Ultimately, she just wants to keep doing what she’s been doing since joining the UFC in 2015, and that includes a busy travel schedule.

“Some changes are happening and you have to adapt to those changes, but I think any change is good,” Shevchenko said. “I feel very comfortable the way I am right now. I do anything to maintain the same shape that I have — to be the champion, to defend the belt, and to enjoy my life, to continue travelling, to continue meeting different people, different countries, different cultures.”

In April, four months after winning the UFC title, Shevchenko returned to her home country of Kyrgyzstan for the first time since 2011. She was given a hero’s welcome and received the Dank Order, a Kyrgyzstan state award, from President Sooronbay Jeenbekov for her “outstanding achievements in UFC and MMA,” according to the resolution signed by Jeenbekov.

Shevchenko also got to catch up with some family who still live in Kyrgyzstan, including her mother and grandparents.

“It was an amazing trip,” Shevchenko said. “I was received by the President of Kyrgyzstan, and he congratulated me personally. It was amazing. I was so happy to be there. ... I missed my country so much. I am thinking about going back there soon and spending some more months.”

Shevchenko said Kyrgyzstani people have been so excited by her success in the UFC because Kyrgyzstan is a martial arts country. Many people there train in a martial art called kulatuu, Shevchenko said.

“Everyone there, they’re watching UFC, they’re huge fans of UFC,” Shevchenko said. “Everyone was happy to see the belt in the country and knows they are a part of history. It’s pretty cool for them. They’re just happy. They were happy to see the belt, to touch it — some of them, not everyone — because they were watching it on TV, and now they had the opportunity to see it very, very close. It’s a totally different feeling.”

Only two months ago, Shevchenko defended her title for the first time by knocking out Jessica Eye with a brutal head kick at UFC 238 in Chicago. Now, she is making a quick turnaround for a rematch with Carmouche.

Shevchenko said she is happy to be fighting so soon after the Eye fight, considering the difficulties she had trying to stay active before she became champ.

“(As the champion), I don’t have to wait for a fight for like a few months, a lot of months,” Shevchenko said. “I can just say I’m ready, and I know the UFC is going to find me an opponent.”

Shevchenko isn’t sure how often she wants to fight, but it sounds like she plans to defend her belt at least a few times per year. As long as she is healthy, Shevchenko said, she is willing to step into the cage against her next challenger.

“I will just feel my body and listen to my body,” Shevchenko said. “When it says I’m ready, I will follow up and say (to the UFC) I’m ready. When my body says I need a little bit of a break, I will listen to it carefully.”