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Valentina Shevchenko feels ‘mental shape’ will determine Pena vs. Nunes 2

Valentina Shevchenko gives her thoughts on the outcome of the rematch between Julianna Pena and Amanda Nunes.

Amanda Nunes was an enormous favorite over Julianna Pena entering their bout at UFC 269. Nunes, who had successfully defended her UFC bantamweight title five times since winning that belt in 2016, entered the bout at -1000 against Pena, who was a +650 underdog. Many were stunned when Pena finished the fight via a rear-naked choke submission in the second round. One viewer who was not shocked when Pena wrested the title from Nunes was UFC flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko.

Shevchenko, who has successfully defended her crown six times since she earned the UFC women’s 125-pound belt in 2018, admitted she was surprised — but not shocked — by the outcome of the first Nunes vs. Pena fight.

Shevchenko, who is scheduled to put her title on the line for the seventh time when she faces Taila Santos at UFC 275, said she saw a different fighter in Nunes at UFC 269.

“(I) Didn’t see Amanda in the same fight shape as she used to be,” Shevchenko said on a recent episode of The MMA Hour, “For example, when we fought together, she was completely different. For Julianna’s fight, she was a little bit more relaxed. I don’t know how she prepared for this fight, but she looked differently.”

One thing Shevchenko, who is 0-2 against Nunes in her career, said is that the mental part of the sport could have been a factor in the outcome of the Pena fight. Noting that a long stretch of wins — Nunes was on a 12-0 run and also held the UFC featherweight belt at the time she faced Pena — can lead a fighter to have a sense of invincibility.

“I know exactly for being dominant, you have to be very careful and respectful and prepared to fight in this hunger mode,” said Shevchenko before turning her thoughts toward her own dominant run at the top of the 125-pound weight class. “This is something I’m trying to avoid in my career, in my preparation in everything. That’s why what happened with them because they had very big mind games and it’s nothing that I have to worry about. I have to worry about exactly what I have in my mind in this moment. This is the most important for me and what happened with them? It’s like, whatever.“

As for the second meeting between Pena and Nunes, which is scheduled for the UFC 277 fight card on July 30 in Dallas, Shevchenko thinks the headspace of the fighters will once again come into play in that contest.

“It depends on what mental shape they’re going to be in. I would say from Julianna Pena, from one side, she’s now champion, a lot more attention, she’s receiving all this attention and she wants to be showed up and that can affect your mental preparation, but in the same time, Amanda, we don’t know what is going on, like maybe family, maybe whatever, so it can also be a point of preparation,” Shevchenko said.

When pressed on her pick, the flyweight queen expects both fighters to be prepared, but she sees things working out in one way.

“I would say, if they are both going to be very ready for the fight, want to fight, want to be in the fight, I would say Amanda would take very much,” Shevchenko said.