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At the rate she is going, Valentina Shevchenko could hold the UFC women’s flyweight belt for the next decade and it would shock no one who closely follows the sport.
She’s been more dominant in her division than the Globetrotters were for years against the Generals.
She faces former strawweight champion Jessica Andrade on Saturday (10 p.m. ET, ESPN+ PPV) at UFC 261 at VyStar Arena in Jacksonville, Florida, and will be looking to make her fifth consecutive title defense.
Andrade, who has competed at 115, 125 and 135 in the UFC, gushes when speaking about the champion.
“The best of the best,” she told Yahoo Sports. “So good. So talented. So dominant.”
Shevchenko is a -450 favorite to retain the belt, according to BetMGM. Andrade, at +340, is the biggest underdog on the card.
It’s remarkable that a former champion like Andrade is such a large underdog, but that’s how dominant Shevchenko has been.
She’s 20-3 in her career, with two of her three losses coming via agonizingly close decisions to Amanda Nunes. The other was a doctor stoppage in her first fight with Liz Carmouche, a bout when she felt she should have been allowed to continue.
The UFC record for most consecutive successful title defenses is 11, held by former flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson. Anderson Silva had 10 consecutive successful defense, while Georges St-Pierre had nine and Jon Jones has eight.
Even though the likelihood is she’ll blow by Johnson’s mark in 2023 or 2024, it’s not an entry on Shevchenko’s to-do list. Perhaps the secret of her success is that the only goal she has is winning the upcoming fight.
“It’s not good for your internal feelings,” Shevchenko said of setting long-term goals. “You have this pressure and you start thinking, ‘Oh no, I have to rush in some way,’ or ‘I have to do that,’ or ‘I have to do another thing.’ If something doesn’t go the right way in terms of the plans, it can be so frustrating. … I just don’t like to set goals. I just like to be a martial artist, to enjoy my life in the martial arts, to be successful and be a dominant champion.
“I’m open for any opportunities that are going to come. It doesn’t mean I’m stuck in one place and I’m not going to move. In terms of fight opportunities, I’m open for anything. … To me, every fight means a lot.”
She understands what she’s accomplished and where she stands in the fight game. She also knows all of the speculation about her moving up to bantamweight to take another crack at Nunes, or facing a challenge from strawweight champion Zhang Weili if Zhang defeats Rose Namajunas on Saturday in their bout at UFC 261.
The top of the food chain among women in the UFC is deep and impressive. Nunes is a two-division champion and regarded as the greatest of all time. Shevchenko isn’t far behind her and Zhang has won 21 in a row since a career-opening loss.
UFC president Dana White loves the possibilities, particularly because it’s so tough to match Shevchenko.
“The problem is, every time we’d make a fight for Shevchenko, everybody would be like, ‘Oh, she’s going to murder this girl; she’s going to walk right through her,’” White told Yahoo Sports. “Now we’ve got Andrade, who is going up a weight class and has that raw power and strength. The way she fights, the way she walks in, is something we haven’t seen and something Shevchenko hasn’t seen from an opponent yet.”
Shevchenko appears supremely confident, and if she wins, White knows he’ll have to do something special to challenge her. And though he always has that Nunes card in his back pocket, he said he’d think more of Zhang moving up.
It would be a mega-fight if it happened, which of course rests on both of them winning on Saturday.
“What I love about the fights this weekend, should Weili win and should Shevchenko win, those two would fight,” White said. “If Shevchenko wins, maybe we do Nunes again. Who knows? All good stuff, though.”
And that’s exactly what watching Shevchenko is: good, possibly great, stuff. It’s like watching a master at work. You feel it when you see LeBron James play basketball or Sidney Crosby play hockey or Tom Brady at quarterback.
It’s MMA, but what you see from Shevchenko is vastly different than what you see from everyone else.
And though she doesn’t believe in setting long-term goals, after watching her excellence for all these years, I have one.
It’s a simple one, too, but a goal that will provide a big reward.
My goal is to never miss another Valentina Shevchenko fight. They’re about as good as they get.
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