As they prepared to meet at UFC on Fox 20 on July 23, 2016, Valentina Shevchenko and Holly Holm were two women in need of a bounce-back victory. Both had competed at UFC 196 in March and lost: Holm had surrendered the Ultimate Fighting Championship bantamweight title to Miesha Tate, getting choked unconscious by Miesha Tate in the fifth round, while Shevchenko had lost a competitive but clear unanimous decision to Amanda Nunes earlier on the main card.
Two weeks before UFC on Fox 20, Nunes had destroyed Tate in the main event of UFC 200 to capture the title, and Shevchenko and Holm knew that the winner of their fight remained on the cusp of a title shot while the loser would take a significant step back. Perhaps some of that knowledge crept into the women’s minds that night, as the Holm-Shevchenko main event was a curiously cautious and tentative affair for long stretches. Despite her size and reach advantage, Holm in particular spent much of the fight missing, coming up short from far outside on her kicks and punches. Shevchenko, for her part, was uncharacteristically eager to get the fight to the ground; while wrestling has always been a sneaky and underrated part of her game, “Bullet” tried for takedowns in almost every round and initiated multiple clinch exchanges against the fence.
Uncharacteristic tactics aside, the outcome was uncontroversial, as Shevchenko came back from losing the first round to sweep the last four. The performance was lackluster enough that nobody clamored for an immediate rematch with now-champ Nunes, but they would meet the next year, with Nunes prevailing in a much closer split decision that had judges as well as media disagreeing vehemently. To date, it is the closest anyone has come to beating the “Lioness” during her incredible title reign. Holm would get her chance as well, challenging Nunes at UFC 239 in 2019, but didn’t fare nearly as well, as she was wiped out by a head kick and some brutal ground punches in the first round.
For Shevchenko, the second loss to Nunes was the last time she tasted defeat in the Octagon. In 2018, Shevchenko made the long-awaited move down to flyweight, where she has become every bit as dominant a champion as her two-time conqueror.