One of the most unique aspects of MMA and a global organization like the UFC is the diversity and backgrounds that each athlete carries into the sport. From wrestlers in Dagestan who grew up wrestling bear cubs, to backyard boxers who come up in the American south. Japanese Judoka and Karateka imbued with the Samurai spirit, Dutch kickboxers, Muay Thai specialists, jiu-jitsu experts and everything in between, the array of styles and backgrounds that some of the UFC’s best have come from are astoundingly vast.
This is what makes UFC flyweight champion, Valentina “Bullet” Shevchenko so interesting because few have been so successful in so many individual martial arts and combat sports as she.
Attributing much of her success to traveling the world looking to compete in any combat opportunity she could find, Shevchenko boasts a pro record and Russian master of sports in boxing, kickboxing, and Muay Thai. On top of this, she black belts in traditional martial arts taekwondo, and Judo, and this all comes before her world championships in MMA.
As she is set to defend her world title once again at UFC 285 against Alexa Grasso on Saturday, March 4, it’s time to take a look at the background of the UFC’s flyweight queen.
- Valentina Shevchenko vs. Alexa Grasso is the UFC 285 co-main event.
- Order UFC 285 on ESPN+ PPV to watch every fight live this weekend.
Born and Raised as a Martial Artist
Valentina Shevchenko was born in Frunze, Kirghizia USSR in 1988 to Elena Shevchenko, a multiple-time Muay Thai champion in Kyrgyzstan. Between her and a father in the pacific fleet of the soviet navy, Shevchenko learned discipline and ambition early on. By the age of five, she was training in Taekwondo under her sister and mother.
At age 12 she transitioned to Muay Thai, knocking out a competitor 10 years her senior within her first year of training under new coach Paval Fedotov who trains her to this day. Around the same time she was introduced to Vale Tudo and kickboxing on top of Muay Thai.
Muay Thai and Kickboxing
Starting in 2003, Shevchenko established herself in the amateur kickboxing and muay Thai circuit. Between 2003-2014 she earned eight gold medals in the IFMA (International Federation of Muay Thai Associations) world championships and the IMFA Royal Cup in 2015.
During that time, Shevchenko would meet a future UFC champion inside the ring. Joanna Jedrzejczyk who would go on to be the most dominant strawweight champion in UFC history lost to Shevchenko in 2006, when Shevchenko was just 18 and Jedrzejczyk 19. The win would push Shevchenko into the tournament final en route to an amateur gold medal. The pair would rematch twice more in amateur competition, Shevchenko winning each, and finally, meet once again in 2018 for the vacant UFC title.
While on the amateur kickboxing circuit, Shevchenko would also defeat future UFC fighter Lina Lansberg who famously headlined a UFC card opposite Cris Cyborg and holds a win over current contender Macy Chiasson.
After going pro, Shevchenko has earned herself the WMC South American Muay Thai championship at 63.5kg while fighting out of Peru, the WMC super Lightweight title, two K-1 Lightweight championships, and both the Kunlun Fight 60kg belt and tournament belt.
In 2010, amidst her kickboxing career, Shevchenko took two pro boxing matches. Her first took place against Halanna Dos Santos in Callao, Peru. Shevchenko walked into the ring wearing Thai shorts against the taller and longer boxer and dominated her at her own game, slipping and weaving under Dos Santos’ shots and countering with big counter lefts. After 10 two-minute rounds, Shevchenko was declared the unanimous decision victor.
Her second boxing match took place in Lima, Peru against Nerys Rincon, a Columbian fighter who was 9-3 at the time, with 3 KOs. While Dos Santos managed to make it to the scorecards, Rincon was not as fortunate, as Shevchenko caught her with a technical knockout 2 minutes and 28 seconds into the fourth round.
Master of Sport
The term “master of sports” may be unfamiliar to UFC fans of the west, but it is a title distinct to athletes of Russia, and an important indicator among martial artists in that area of the world. Where wrestling, boxing, Sambo, and other combat arts are popular among the general people, those who excel further in the competition and are deemed deserving by the ministry of sports are awarded a master of sports.
Although her background in Judo and Taekwondo competition is seemingly lost in her storied career Valentina Shevchenko, we do know that training under her elder sister and mother from a young age in traditional arts, Shevchenko earned a master of Sport in both martial arts. This level of ability is even more clear in her head-kick KOs inside the octagon and the smooth throws and trips that she has used to dominate the competition.
While a master of sports isn’t uncommon among elite athletes stemming from Shevchenko’s area of the world, she more than most may fit the actual term. An undefeated pro boxer, with over 90 wins in Muay Thai and kickboxing on top of being arguably the greatest women MMA fighter of all time put Shevchenko in a unique position of truly being a master of sport, specifically a master of combat sport.
Valentina Shevchenko will defend her title in the UFC 285 co-main event against Alexa Grasso on Saturday, March 4. Order the UFC 285 PPV on ESPN+ now to watch every fight live, including Jon Jones vs. Ciryl Gane.