An exciting bout between UFC flyweights will take place this Saturday when the elder of the two Shevchenko sisters returns against one of Arizona’s finest. Antonina Shevchenko will be looking to bounce back from back-to-back losses in 2021 against Cortney Casey, fresh off successfully pulling off the same against Liana Jojua in November.
A world-class Muay Thai practitioner, Shevchenko has largely been compared to her sister Valentina, the champion. However, having struggled with mixed results since entering the UFC in 2018, some fans have questioned whether Antonina can live up to the expectations. In reality, however, having been matched up with some of the division’s elite very quickly into her career in the form of #2 ranked Katlyn Chookagian and long-time veteran Roxanne Modafferi, Shevchenko is likely not to have shown her true potential. A chance against Casey may be the perfect opportunity for her to regain momentum and showcase her skills.
For Courtney Casey, it’s about building off of her last win. Like Shevchenko, she has had her ups and downs, starting her UFC run in 2015 with a pair of losses, then a pair of wins, then extremely inconsistent results since. However, the story of how good Casey really is when she’s on is in the level of competition. A win over Angela Hill has aged well, and there is no shame in losing to Michelle Waterson or Claudia Gadelha, all of whom have fought amongst the very best in their divisions. Antonina may not have the name value of Casey’s past opponents, but just like Shevchenko, this is a massive opportunity for her to really showcase her skills.
Antonina Shevchenko is the betting favorite as we near UFC Vegas 58 this weekend.
Antonina Shevchenko is an extremely technical fighter. She comes from a very impressive background in Muay Thai, including multiple-time world championships, plus an extra array of medals spanning the ITF Taekwondo scene. While her striking credentials are undeniable, she is actually an extremely well-rounded martial artist. Like her sister, she is a very disciplined athlete, with technical skill shining apart from the rest. She is a southpaw, who likes to fight on the outside with sharp and faster counters, but invites the Muay Thai clinch when her opponents break the distance. Typically from kicking range, her kicks will act as an annoyance, frustrating her opponents, which allows her to string counter combinations together, which in turn hide her one sniping shots, especially the straight cross. Inside, her Thai plum is one of the best, and knees to the body have been a solid weapon in almost all of her fights.
She does not usually actively pursue takedowns, but when engaged in scrambles, she looks for the whizzer or head and arm most often to counter with throws; on top, she has good control and a technical system of passing, most likely to crucifix position to work to a finish. Especially landing in scarf hold due to her throws, switching her hip directly into side control, or attempting to trap the arm from scarf hold allows her a very direct route to crucifix which is likely why it’s so common in her fights. However, defensively, while she maintains her level of technique and is very good at reguarding, she tends to lack urgency and explosion in certain positions. Off of her back, she may settle and look to create openings for submissions, but an inability to snap them onto her opponent has been a fault. Likewise, trapped under a mount of defending her back, she has an understanding in how to create the openings to turn into her opponent or explode out but isn’t physical enough to complete the defenses.
Cortney Casey also likes to utilize her reach, but unlike Shevchenko’s use of straight sniping shots, Casey tends to sit on her hooks and uppercuts around the guard to a greater extent. It’s notable that both women usually enjoy a reach advantage but will be just an inch apart against one another. If Shevchenko keeps distance with the more straight strikes as well as her teeps, this will be a problem for Casey to take the initiative in solving. The problem with this as well is that Casey has also been known to over-commit while pushing forward, landing into the clinch and stuffing her own reach when she cannot bait her opponent in exchanging flatly.
Juxtaposing Shevchenko’s systematic approach to grappling, Casey is much more an opportunistic grappler. She has lacked takedown defense in the past, but Shevchenko does not normally shoot for the legs in this way. On the mat, Casey is solid on top but also tends to give up bottom control and has positional difficulty. While she may lack in positional awareness, however, she makes up in her ability to snatch onto submissions quickly in transition. Where Antonina lacks explosiveness, Casey readily takes the back or a limb given a moment of complacency from her opponent.
I believe that Shevchenko is the more advantageous fighter. On the feet, she can circle away and force Casey to chase her, drawing her into her strikes or clinch where she has the advantage. Casey probably has the pure power advantage because she sits on her punches a bit more, but neither offer a major one-punch knockout threat, so the volume and accuracy Shevchenko can offer should negate this to an extent.
They both have to be proactive on the mat because neither can afford to be caught on the bottom. Shevchenko’s positional awareness leaves little room to be swept, and when she is the one trapped, she goes to very large movements to compensate for pure explosion, which is exactly when Casey pounces on submissions.
The big question is if the fight ends up on the ground, how does it get there because neither are predominantly wrestlers, but most likely Casey will shoot, and Shevchenko will look to counter throw. The grappling element of this fight is largely who wins out that exchange, but in the other half of the fight, on the feet, I lean towards Shevchenko, giving her the edge overall.
Prediction: Antonina Shevchenko to win (-180 odds at MyBookie)