Tonight (Sat., September 9, 2017), Amanda Nunes and Valentina Shevchenko will finally settle their long-standing rivalry when they battle for the UFC women’s bantamweight championship in the main event of UFC 215 from Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
The bout, a rematch of their closely-contested first match-up at UFC 196 in early 2016, where Nunes emerged victorious, was scheduled to take place in the main event of July 8’s UFC 213 until a last-minute illness forced Nunes to pull out of the International Fight Week-ending card the day of the bout.
Still one of the more dominant champions in the UFC, Nunes has repeatedly stated she believes the UFC is “punishing” her for not fighting at UFC 213 by placing her fight with Shevchenko in the co-main event, but that became a moot point when Ray Borg was forced from his main event clash with flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson with an illness similar to Nunes.
So regardless, Nunes vs. Shevchenko will have their rematch, and despite the outright hangover from Conor McGregor’s boxing match against Floyd Mayweather two weeks ago, this is one of the best fights – especially meritocracy wise – that the world’s MMA leader could put on. That was never more apparent than it was shortly following Shevchenko’s shocking submission win over talented grappler Julianna Pena at January’s UFC on FOX 22, a bout which earned “Bullet” her title shot and Nunes was present for.
The two shared an interesting moment of their own shall we say, unique, trash talk, and MMA’s perhaps most underrated rivalry was taken to a new level. It’s cooled off significantly after the highly-publicized mess at UFC 213, and the timing of the rescheduling probably couldn’t be much worse than it is now. But that simply doesn’t change the fact that this may be the single best fight in UFC women’s bantamweight history in terms of talent.
Nunes and Shevchenko represent the true evolution of women’s MMA, and that makes the UFC 215 main event a true spectacle of modern mixed martial arts, even if it isn’t getting much attention. Let’s break down the fight from all aspects of both females’ well-rounded MMA games.
Here’s where both women have been most touted, with Nunes being regarded as the most powerful puncher in women’s MMA not named Cris Cyborg, and Shevchenko renowned for her championship-level Muay Thai background that includes multiple victories over UFC women’s strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk.
Nunes’ recent smatterings of Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate prove she has the power to knock out any female fighter in MMA if she lands cleanly, and indeed she was able to land some hard shots on Shevchenko in the first two rounds of their first match. But she wasn’t able to easily plow through “Bullet’s” defense and finish the fight in devastating fashion like she did against Rousey and Tate, and that lead to her gassing badly in the third round, which she lost in dominant style.
That means a more measured, precise striking game that evolves over several rounds of the five-round fight will favor Shevchenko. The Russian-born combatant rarely finds herself in danger, evident by her ability to stay clear of noted knockout artist Holly Holm’s strikes in a shockingly one-sided decision win at UFC on FOX 20. She’ll look to counter Nunes’ inevitable rushes, and it’ll require some extreme accuracy to do so without getting tagged.
If Nunes can land early, obviously this arena will trend in her favor. If she can’t hurt Shevchenko in the first two frames, however, it may shift to ‘Bullet’s’ favor in short order.
Neither elite woman relies all too heavily on their wrestling to get the job done; but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a significant amount of skill in that arena.
Nunes is a big, strong bantamweight who can muscle opponents to the mat with ease but prefers to bash her foes with powerful, precise strikes as her takedowns to open up a path for a fight-ending submission, most commonly a rear-naked choke. The aforementioned tendency to gas will most likely lead Nunes to avoid too many prolonged wrestling exchanges, however.
Shevchenko is all more well-known for her elite striking and then her submissions second, but she showed some underrated takedowns in her win over a former champion in Holm. She also proved she could more than hold her own with one of the best wrestlers in the division by stopping Pena in her latest victory.
The champion has a brutalizing top game that she proved she could use to control Shevchenko in their first bout, but that again will be limited by her notorious gas tank. Shevchenko has proven she can go five hard rounds. This one is close, but I’ll give a slight edge to the challenger on longevity alone.
Advantage: Shevchenko 55-45
Both women are extremely versed in grappling just like they are striking and, to a lesser extent, takedowns.
Nunes prefers to rock her opponents on the feet and then go for the tapout when her opponents are too rocked to defend a submission. She did just that to two world-class bantamweights in former champion Tate and former title challenger Sara McMann. She’s a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and is an absolute bear to deal with on the ground. However, she’ll always favor her potentially fight-ending power, and 10 of her 14 MMA victories have come by knockout, while only three have come by submission.
Meanwhile, Shevchenko is widely known for her decorated Muay Thai resumé, so that’s lead to her dangerous grappling skills being overlooked significantly. She has actually won six of her 14 MMA victories by submission, with only four coming by way of T/KO. Tapping “The Venezuelan Vixen” with a risky armbar like she did in January shows she can submit anyone from any position, making her a highly dangerous challenge on the mat for any female in MMA.
It may sound cliché, but this area of MMA is once again as closely matched as it could be.
Advantage: 50-50 again
Hyperbole be damned, this is truly a title bout that represents the sheer evolution of women’s MMA as it features the two most well-rounded, dangerous, and talented female bantamweights to ever set foot in the octagon.
Rousey paved the way for these women to enjoy the positions they do today, but Nunes and Shevchenko took those opportunities and ran with them, clearly pulling away from the rest of the pack. The division isn’t stacked underneath them by any means, but “The Lioness” and “Bullet” are two of the best female fighters in women’s MMA history regardless of who wins or loses tonight.
With that said, I feel the champion has indeed improved since they first faced off, but Shevchenko may have gotten even better. “The Lioness” was clearly fading in the third round of their first fight, and with this scheduled for five rounds, I think it will just be too much to finish “Bullet” in the early rounds. If and when she can’t, Nunes may gas from implementing her high-paced, power-slugging gameplan.
I think that will lead to a rapid shift in momentum, one which the Russian-Peruvian kickboxer will capitalize on to take the belt.
Pick: Shevchenko def. Nunes via R4 TKO (strikes)