UFC Women’s Flyweight ChampionshipValentina Shevchenko (19-3) vs. Jennifer Maia (18-6-1)
ODDS: Shevchenko (-1400), Maia (+925)
After every Shevchenko fight at flyweight, the question seems to be the same: Now what? Shevchenko burst onto the UFC scene in late 2015 with a win over Sarah Kaufman and immediately went about proving herself as one of the best fighters in the world. She nearly defeated Amanda Nunes right before the “Lioness” won the bantamweight title, then turned what was supposed to be a rebound win for Holly Holm into a one-sided loss that served as a Shevchenko showcase. Shevchenko eventually earned her way to a rematch and a championship bout against Nunes, but it turned into an interminable affair that exposed the one criticism of Shevchenko’s game. Shevchenko is efficient to the point where she has essentially taken all the risk out of what she does, and while that precision and control is amazingly impressive in her best performances, it quickly turns into a stalemate against an opponent unwilling to engage. The storyline of the first Nunes-Shevchenko fight was that Nunes got off to a hot start and tired herself out, so with a more conservative Brazilian minding her gas tank, the bantamweight champion gave Shevchenko absolutely nothing with which to work, resulting in Shevchenko coasting to a decision loss. On the plus side, that prompted Shevchenko to drop down to the UFC’s newly formed women’s flyweight division, where she has gotten some more entertaining opportunities to show off her wares. Shevchenko quickly earned the title at 125 pounds, and while there was still a terrible title defense against Liz Carmouche in the mix, her reign has seen some entertaining blowouts. Shevchenko is all about taking the openings that her opponents provide, so she cannot help but steamroll overmatched challengers like Jessica Eye and Katlyn Chookagian. Her dominance over the division has led to some questions about where she goes from here. Ss she better off getting tested back at bantamweight, or is there more value in her as an entertaining wrecking ball? Thankfully, Jessica Andrade is on the horizon as a challenger who could provide Shevchenko with a difficult and entertaining fight. However, Maia is next up on the docket.
Things are coming full circle a bit here. When Shevchenko announced her cut to flyweight, the UFC’s initial idea was apparently to match her with Maia, then the Invicta Fighting Championships flyweight titleholder, in a No. 1 contender’s bout. Maia was unable to make the date, causing the UFC to pivot to Priscila Cachoeira, so the Brazilian instead took the long route to get her shot at Shevchenko and the belt. Maia has done well to refine her style over the years, but the overall approach remains the same, as she will move forward with strikes and, failing that, bully her opponent in the clinch if the situation starts to turn south. It has had its ceiling—Carmouche proved to be too strong to bully, and Chookagian proved to be too quick to track down—but it has been enough to take care of everyone else Maia has faced inside the Octagon. Her August win over Joanne Calderwood showed off Maia’s dormant grappling skills, as she managed to clamp down on a first-round armbar to take the top contender’s slot from the Scotswoman. She probably will not get much done in this co-main event, however. Given how much of her style relies on pressure and physicality, that all just seems like a recipe to march in and either get picked apart or taken down by Shevchenko. The good news from an entertainment standpoint is that Maia will likely force the issue enough to prevent a boring stalemate, but there should not be much drama to this one. The pick is for Shevchenko to wear down Maia and earn a third-round stoppage.
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