Michael Bisping thought Valentina Shevchenko was in jeopardy of losing her title to Taila Santos at UFC 275 this past Saturday.
For the first time since winning the UFC flyweight championship over three years ago, Shevchenko was truly tested by a challenger. ‘Bullet’ found herself in several bad positions after being taken down and controlled on the ground by Santos, who accomplished the rare feat of winning rounds against the usually impenetrable champion. However, the tide turned in the final rounds as Shevchenko started getting the better of Santos.
As the judges’ scorecards were read, it became clear just how close the fight was, but Shevchenko got the nod by split decision for her seventh consecutive defense. Despite defeating another contender, the aura of dominance surrounding Shevchenko took a hit, and it is something many fighters and pundits, including Bisping, couldn’t help but notice.
“We saw her look human,” said Bisping on his YouTube channel. “Now, of course, as we know, Amanda Nunes has beaten Valentina Shevchenko on two occasions, but tonight she almost lost at 125. Amanda Nunes is bigger, she’s stronger, she’s the 145-pound champion and the [former] bantamweight champion.
“Tonight, Valentina Shevchenko went out there in the flyweight division where she rules,” continued Bisping. “She’s the No. 1. She’s the best, simple as that. There’s been worthy challengers, but nobody’s came close to beating her. Shevchenko has almost become her own kryptonite because she just dismantles everybody with ease, but not tonight. Tonight, she had to fight through real adversity.”
Bisping also addressed the controversy around how the fight was scored, igniting yet another debate on the scoring criteria. The ‘Count’ had it tied up at 2-2 and saw the third round as being the deciding one, but it was difficult to score given how well each fighter did in their respective departments.
“I really wasn’t sure which way it was going to go,” said Bisping. “For me, it all came down to Round 3. Round 1 and 2, clearly for Taila Santos. Round 4 and 5, I think it’s fair to say that Shevchenko stole them. Round 3 is the one for me that is open for debate. Started off strong for Shevchenko, but then Santos took her down. She got on top, she threatened the choke, she did a little bit of damage with ground-and-pound, things like that. So how do you score it?”
After her win against Santos, Shevchenko was met with a bevy of options for her next defense. The Tiger Muay Thai product mentioned a potential fight against the winner of Lauren Murphy and Miesha Tate at UFC 276. There was also a prospective move from flyweight to bantamweight to challenge either Julianna Peña or Amanda Nunes pending their championship rematch at UFC 277.
But if it was left up to Bisping, an immediate rematch between Shevchenko and Santos would be scheduled.
“What do they do now? Do they do an immediate rematch? I think they do, in my humble opinion. That’s what I would do,” said Bisping. “If I was the matchmaker, I’d say let’s run it back and it’d be really interesting. Who’s gonna change? Who’s gonna alter their game? Who’s gonna adjust, right? Shevchenko could work on her takedown defense, she could work on her grappling. Santos could work on the striking. Either way, it was an incredible fight, back-and-forth. Well done to both ladies.”
An immediate rematch may not be far-fetched, but it could be a while before Shevchenko or Santos fights again. The champion suffered a foot injury in the lead-up to the fight, while the challenger sustained a broken orbital due to an accidental clash of heads. The Brazilian will require surgery, and there is no timeline for her recovery yet.