Valentina Shevchenko defended her UFC flyweight title for the sixth time as she brushed aside Lauren Murphy with expected ease in the co-main event of UFC 266 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Murphy was hesitant right from the outset against a fighter who was clearly more skilled in all departments. As she warily feinted and prodded in the opening stanzas, Shevchenko displayed her lightning speed and precision with a series of deadly combinations. ‘Bullet’ even took the challenger down a couple of times, showcasing her strength and well-roundedness.
Eventually, a right hook from Shevchenko in the fourth round caught Murphy flush. ‘Lucky’ was finished for the first time in her professional career as Shevchenko peppered her with punches, kicks and elbows.
Having beaten Jessica Eye, Liz Carmouche, Katlyn Chookagian, Jennifer Maia, Jessica Andrade, and Murphy, Valentina Shevchenko is running out of matchups in the UFC’s flyweight division. Here are three possible next opponents for one of the most dominant UFC champions of all time.
#3 Valentina Shevchenko vs the winner of Joanne Calderwood/Alexa Grasso
Cynthia Calvillo is the only fighter currently in the top five of the UFC flyweight division Valentina Shevchenko hasn’t beaten yet. But Calvillo cannot be next in line for a title shot since she was knocked out by Andrade in the opening fight of the UFC 266 main card.
Given that Shevchenko has already cleared out most of her division’s top competitors, the UFC might have to look lower to find an adequate opponent. The winner of the November 20 bout between Joanne Calderwood and Alexa Grasso could be next in line.
Calderwood doesn’t really deserve a title shot on the face of it, since she has lost to Murphy, Maia, Chookagian, Calvillo and Andrade in her last nine fights. But the fact of the matter is that she hasn’t faced Shevchenko yet, which could be reason enough to give her a shot should she beat Grasso.
Meanwhile, Grasso has amassed a two-fight win streak since alternating between wins and losses in her first six UFC fights. The 28-year-old has slightly more momentum than the other flyweights right now, even if it seems like she’ll be thoroughly outmatched against Shevchenko.
#2 Valentina Shevchenko vs Jessica Andrade
Jessica Andrade lost to Valentina Shevchenko as recently as April 2021, but despite that, there’s reason to believe she could be the biggest threat to the champion.
Andrade has always been known for her punching power, and that has perhaps been amplified at flyweight. She won her flyweight debut in brutal fashion against Chookagian and rebounded from her loss to Shevchenko with another finish at UFC 266.
‘Bate Estaca’ might only have a puncher’s chance against Shevchenko, but that’s more than what the other contenders have to offer. Andrade might be in line for a rematch, although the first meeting was anything but competitive.
#1 Valentina Shevchenko vs Amanda Nunes 3
The general consensus among fans and experts is that the only fight to make for Valentina Shevchenko is the trilogy against bantamweight and featherweight champion Amanda Nunes. This is despite Shevchenko having lost to ‘The Lioness’ twice already.
Arguably the two most dominant female champions in UFC history, Shevchenko and Nunes have no real challenges remaining in their respective divisions. That the rematch was an extremely close fight ‘Bullet’ should’ve probably edged has only added weight to the possibility of a trilogy.
Speaking about the same, UFC president Dana White recently said:
“The more hungry people get, the more they want to see it, the more it makes me want to make it. So if she [Valentina] wins and Amanda beats Peña and they’re both into it, I’m interested in talking about it. When somebody is as dominant as these two are, that’s what you always say but there’s always going to be a challenger.”
“There’s no doubt that Nunes is the greatest female fighter of all time, I mean there’s absolutely no doubt or question about it. There’s no doubt that Valentina is also one of the greatest female fighters of all time, so to do them again makes sense. Nunes has two wins, usually when somebody has two on somebody you don’t do it again. But that one’s just so interesting.”
Shevchenko is undersized at bantamweight and will probably open as a betting underdog, but her mastery of MMA is so high that she’d have a genuine chance of derailing Nunes’ incredible run.
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