Valentina Shevchenko vs. Jennifer Maia this November 21, 2020 at ‘UFC 255 - ‘FIGUEIREDO VS PEREZ’, from the UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada, United States.
One sentence summary
David: Bruised, starring Jennifer Maia instead of Halle Berry.
Phil: It’s that Andrade-Shevchenko fight that people have been asking for just, like... worse...?
Record: Valentina Shevchenko 19-3 Jennifer Maia 18-6-1 Draw
Odds: Valentina Shevchenko -1375 Jennifer Maia +900
History / Introduction to the fighters
David: Shevchenko is entering that part of her career that every UFC champion seems to experience once they dominate for an extended period: finding extra income elsewhere. She’s set to star in Bruised, starring Halle Berry. Like all films centering around MMA, family drama is the name of the game. What is this anyway? In Warrior, Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton played brothers who ended up fighting each other. In the upcoming Embattled, starring Deacon Frost himself, father is fighting son. Literally. Is Shevchenko playing Halle’s adopted daughter, and this is how they’re gonna settle their differences? By beating the shit out of each other? My dad was an amatuer boxer so I never thought to fight him to settle our differences, but maybe that was the way to go. If I just got my ass kicked hard enough, I’d learn important life lessons and be just as high-functioning as the people who run my country (my UK brothers have it all figured out, yes?). Ok. I apologize. I’m rambling about absolutely nothing relevant, but let’s face it. This is another absolute layup. Maybe like in the movies, Maia will also learn critical life lessons after getting destroyed by Shevchenko. Because that’s exactly what’s gonna happen.
Phil: I am actually travelling at the moment and so am struggling to write this on a mobile phone while on a hydrofoil which is zipping through the surprisingly choppy waters of the Saronic Gulf. Soviet Army Voskhods were made for lakes, not the open sea! On that slightly Bond villain note, however, it’s hard to see Valentina’s film career reaching the dizzying heights of Gina Carano’s, who is currently educating the wider world on how good MMA people are at the whole “brain thinking” thing. Val is more likely to be confined to Rousey’s ‘scowling opponent’ role, just with a scary eastern European edge. I hope she dances on film though, just so I can gif it and use it to torment people.
David: Maia has been a mainstay in the division, winning some, and losing some. That’s just good enough for a flyweight division that has been cleaned out. Maia doesn’t offer anything unique, but she’s a solid blood and guts fighter who pulled off a modest upset over Joanne Calderwood, and now here she is. To Maia’s credit, she seems aware of her tactical limitations. But it’s still hard to believe that a 3-2 fighter who missed weight twice, and got suspended for tainted supplements several moons ago is here at the top.
Phil: Riding an incredible (checks tapology... yikes) one fight winning streak, Maia essentially fulfils the role of warm body for Shevchenko to style on. The plus side is that she’s fairly fun to watch, as a blood n guys brawler and submission player. At least she won’t run the Carmouche playbook...? (Please God no)
What’s at stake?
David: Would a Maia win be bigger than GSP vs. Serra? That’s always been the gold standard for improbably upsets, but I think this might beat even that.
Phil: It’d certainly be in that ballpark. Val and these fights do represent something important for the UFC though: fulfilled contractual obligations. With Nunes discussing retirement, Shevchenko can set a workmanlike pace of title defenses against no-hopers, which can be used on (terrible) PPVs to fulfil the UFCs requirements for title fights. Given the recalcitrance or slow pace of defenses in many other divisions, it makes sense to have a reservoir of easily booked can crushing exhibitions which leave everyone happy: the challenger, Val, ESPN within contractually drawn boundaries of the word “happy” etc.
Where do they want it?
David: I can see why Shevchenko frustrates analysts. ‘Reluctance’ is not a trait we’re used to using to describe an elite fighter. I suspect it’s because she really straddles that line between being patient and being stubborn. Between being calculated, and being bored. I’m not so snobbish as to pretend I don’t find certain fighters exciting versus boring. I would gladly describe guys like Jake Shields and Tarec Saffiedine as ‘boring’. But I do appreciate Shevchenko for precisely that reason: because she walks that tightrope. I get the sense that she’s willing to journey into more action, but her opponents just don’t force her to. I think it’s telling that when she was forced to adjust, she did. It was too little too late against Amanda Nunes, but I find any such criticism an extreme underselling of how subtle Nunes’ attacks were against Valentina. And so for this fight, I expect ‘vintage’ Shevchenko: she’ll stand outside of the punch border, counter combination strike with her 1-2 lead leg kick, and score the easy takedown when Maia is in her face. Despite her reputation and signature spinning backfists, Shevchenko is not a varied striker. But her counter combinations are so clean, she never needs to pick up a different weapon. She just needs to grab the speed reloader on her single-action revolver. Shevchenko is what the Machida Era would have looked like if Rogan’s comment wasn’t a punchline. Besides. Maia is no Shogun.
Phil: Watching Shevchenko against Jedrzejczyk was uniquely frustrating, because it showed how impressive she could be against someone who was genuinely skilled with approximate size and reach parity. Masterful range control, countering kicks as well as almost anyone in MMA, a rock solid clinch takedown and top game... it’s just a shame we don’t get to see these things more against opposition who can challenge her.
David: Maia’s strength is not really having any. Which sounds like an insult, but I consider it a testament to her classic style. She’s well rounded, and active, and that’s just kind of enough. It’s fitting that Alex Perez is the other contender for the night, because they both do that superfluous pre-exchange head movement to stay away from range fighting until they can unleash flurries. Maia wants to get in close for punch combinations, and mix things up with either resets or takedowns. I was impressed with the way she aggressively went for the armbar on Calderwood as soon as the fight went to the ground. She’s had trouble in the past with getting taken down and immediately out-positioned. That obviously doesn’t bode well for her against Shevchenko, but it does feel like a recognition of what she needs to improve on. Still, let’s be real. Shevchenko is not just a bad matchup because Shevchenko is an elite fighter and Maia is not. She’s a bad matchup because Maia does a lot of things badly that the champ can exploit: the way she oversteps with her combinations, and how extremely hittable she is on the reset as she keeps her hands low and head straight up when stepping back out to re-engage. She doesn’t do well transition scrambling either. It’s all bad. But is it the end?
Phil: Yeah. Yeah it probably is. As mentioned previously, the main thing to be grateful for is Maia’s aggression. She’s going to throw herself into the woodchipper with some abandon, and even if she doesn’t she’s enough of a defensive void that even Valentina (???) should be able to wipe her out pretty bad. Ref: Adesanya vs Costa, where fighting ‘technical’ got Costa murked worse than just holding back.
Insight from past fights
David: Chookagian is the obvious point of reference, and for good reason. Chookagian was able to catch Maia with clean combinations because Maia’s footwork backing out was just so limited. Even normal punch entries were a problem. At one point Chookagian catches Maia with one of the slowest left hooks you’ll ever see. Maia isn’t a bad fighter, but she’s like a lot of run of the mill pressure fighters: when they struggle with defense, they can either work harder to defend less, or work hard to learn defense. If Maia can do some of the things Nunes did, and eat up space with feints and footwork, maybe she can Land a Big One, but this is well beyond Maia’s talents, and the only reason I mentioned Nunes at all is to pad word length.
Phil: This one is absolutely unavoidable. It’s hard to think of a more damning fight for a title challenger really: it’s recent, it’s stylistically similar, but on a far lower level, and Maia lost.
David: Kind of a lot. Is Shevchenko ready after her big starring role? Will Maia finally make weight?
Phil: How big Jennifer Maia would have to be in order for me to favour her in this fight is an interesting question in and of itself...?
David: This fight is pretty obvious. Maia is so stationery I honestly feel like she’s gonna get iced in theatrical fashion. While it’s not Shevchenko’s style to score a quick KO, I can’t see Maia avoiding a big counter head kick, or counter-anything really. Valentina Shevchenko by KO, round 1.
Phil: I am going to hopefully co-sign, and pray that the risk-reward and sheer skill differential do not consign us to Val-Carmouche. I’ve seen that fight twice now! Valentina Shevchenko by TKO, round 1