mma / News

Shevchenko and Jedrzejczyk Cross Paths Again

December 3, 2018 | Posted by Dan Plunkett
Valentina Shevchenko Joanna Jedrzejczyk UFC 231

Valentina Shevchenko has been ready to be a world champion in mixed martial arts for the last year-and-a-half.

Joanna Jedrzejczyk was the UFC’s strawweight champion for two-and-a-half years, a period during which she became the most revered female mixed martial artist on the planet. She was at the top of her game, with performances admired both by her peers and critics, when she stunningly fell from her perch. Then, in her bid to reclaim her spot, she failed.

Shevchenko is 30-years-old to Jedrzejczyk’s 31—the prime years for a fighter—and yet in the story arc of their fight this coming Saturday, Shevchenko is the one rising to the title, while Jedrzejczyk is falling into a title shot.

An undersized bantamweight, Shevchenko quickly made a splash in the UFC. After beating Sarah Kaufman in her promotional debut, the UFC matched her against top contender Amanda Nunes. Shevchenko lost a close fight in which she got stronger as the fight progressed. Despite the loss, Shevchenko’s performance was a boost to her career. Nunes would go on to win the bantamweight title in her next fight, while Shevchenko had a major opportunity to make a name for herself against Holly Holm.

In November 2015, Holm upset Ronda Rousey in what was at that time the most famous fight result in UFC history. Holm briefly became a major star, but she wasn’t able to continue her momentum in the cage. After beating Rousey, she lost in come-from-behind fashion to Miesha Tate. That’s when the UFC pitted her against Shevchenko.

Holm’s star power that attracted more than 4 million viewers to the bout on Fox, and Shevchenko made the most of the spotlight. She was too quick for Holm and won four of five rounds, securing a spot near the top of the division. In her next fight, Shevchenko submitted Julianna Pena to earn a title shot, which doubled as a chance to avenge her loss to Nunes.

The fight was supposed to at UFC 213 in July of 2017, but Nunes pulled out on the day of the bout. Rescheduled for September, Nunes escaped with the belt by the thinnest of margins. Had it not been for a failed throw in the fifth round that saw Shevchenko end up with Nunes on her back, she likely would have taken the fifth round and therefore the fight. Unfortunately for Shevchenko, the fight wasn’t particularly exciting, or else there would have been talk of an immediate rematch.

Instead, Shevchenko was forced to look for other options. She chose to move down to the newly-created UFC women’s flyweight division, which better suited her size. Upon announcing her intentions to move down, she became the immediate favorite to not just take the title but dominate the division.

Her UFC flyweight debut was a massacre. Shevchenko obliterated an overmatched Priscila Cachoeira to secure a title shot in her next fight.

Nicco Mantano had run the table on The Ultimate Fighter to win the tournament and become UFC’s first female flyweight champion. However, the 4-2 fighter was expected to be overwhelmed by the significantly more experienced Shevchenko. Shevchenko was a massive 12.5-to-1 favorite, which was unheard of for a title challenger. Several title challengers have been betting favorites to win, but I can’t recall one that was universally expected to walk through the champion as Shevchenko was.

But once again, the title would elude Shevchenko. Montano fell ill cutting weight, which forced her out of the fight. Rather than reschedule the bout, the UFC stripped Montano of the title with the intention of having Shevchenko compete for the vacant belt.

While Shevchenko was small for 135-pounds, Joanne Jedrzejczyk had a tough time cutting to the 115-pound strawweight limit. Still, as champion, she hit her mark every time. Jedrzejczyk rattled off five consecutive title defenses before Rose Namajunas stunned her in Madison Square Garden. Jedrzejczyk pinned the loss on her tough weight cut, and the UFC arranged an immediate rematch. This time in a much closer fight, Namajunas proved her victory wasn’t a fluke and took him a decision victory. This sent Jedrzejczyk back to the drawing board.

In July, Jedrzejczyk earned a comfortable decision victory over Tecia Torres. Stuck in the difficult position of having lost twice to the champion, one move made a lot of sense for Jedrzejczyk. In September, the UFC announced she would move up to 125-pounds, which should make her weight cut easier, to fight Shevchenko for the vacant flyweight title.

Jedrzejczyk and Shevchenko have intersected in the past. They fought three times in muay Thai, the last time in 2008, with Shevchenko getting the upper hand each time. In terms of pure striking credentials, Shevchenko’s surpass Jedrzejczyk’s, although Jedrzejczyk’s accomplishments in MMA outstrip Shevchenko’s.

The narrative is in Shevchenko’s favor. Jedrzejczyk is the former champion vying to achieve glory once again. Usually, that is an unsuccessful venture. Shevchenko has had her crowning moment pulled out from beneath her several times, but her destiny will be in her hands on Saturday. She’s about a 3-to-1 favorite to walk away with the gold, but surely Jedrzejczyk won’t go away quietly.

Dan Plunkett has covered MMA for 411Mania since 2008. You can reach him by email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Dan_Plunkett.