The greatest women’s flyweight champion in MMA history, Valentina Shevchenko will return to the octagon this coming weekend to take on #3 contender Lauren Murphy. The title fight will take place in Las Vegas on Saturday, September 25, and serve as the co-main event of the night.
In her last three fights, Shevchenko has defeated ranked #1, #2, and #4 in Jessica Andrade, Katlyn Chookagian, and Jennifer Maia. Including these last three, Shevchenko has defended her flyweight belt five times after defeating former strawweight queen Joanna Jędrzejczyk. Outside of current double champ Amanda Nunes, reigning over the two weight classes above her, most believe Shevchenko is likely the greatest women’s MMA champion in the world.
With all of Shevchenko’s accolades stacked against her, ‘Lucky’ Lauren Murphy will have the opportunity to pull off one of the greatest upsets in UFC history. A gritty boxer-esk MMA fighter from Alaska, she has also accumulated an impressive run heading into her bout on Saturday. A five-fight win-streak completed with a hard-fought victory over Joanne Calderwood, rounds out Murphy’s current resume. Calderwood, who was once recently in talks for a title fight herself, came in as the favorite over Murphy. However, as Murphy tries this weekend, she defied the odds, stealing the title fight for herself by overcoming a difficult round one and dominating Calderwood in the second.
Shevchenko vs. Murphy betting odds
The champion will come in as a massive favorite over Murphy at -1400. This means that it will cost $14 dollars in order to win just $1 on Shevchenko. On the flip side, a bet of $14 dollars on Murphy will return $105 if she is successful.
Shevchenko vs. Murphy breakdown
Part of the reason Lauren Murphy is such an underdog is aside from the level of competition the two have fought and beaten over their careers, Shevchenko’s style leaves little room to be taken advantage of. A blackbelt in Judo and Taekwondo with a Master of Sports in Muay Thai, Boxing, and Kickboxing, Shevchenko has all the tools needed in modern mixed martial arts.
She is clinical in her approach, who has morphed each of her individual skill sets into one cohesive approach to MMA, she does not entertain a straight jiu-jitsu match on the ground but will blend her wrestling, striking, cagework, etc. in order to overload and take advantage of anything necessary to win.
While striking, Shevchenko is known for investing in the body, both to break it down but more importantly as a set up to go upstairs. Watch her kick low behind the jab in order to force her opponent to react before fainting the same movement and raising the target. On the counter-attack she has a stiff right hook, her lead, which comes after an educated slip, used just barely to avoid but stays in place for her strike. Although the two women here will be equal in height and reach, Shevchenko has a history of fighting bigger longer fighters in her days at Bantamweight and has developed a slick, superman punch to leg kick combo allowing her to break distance very quickly while landing heavy damage.
Murphy will have quite a few new obstacles to overcome in this matchup, it will be her first southpaw opponent in the UFC as well as the jump in competition. Lauren Murphy has leaned on her physical strength against some opponents, specifically when securing a clinch to dirty box or drag opponents down, however, Shevchenko having fought successfully at 135lbs, has brought that physicality down with her to 125lbs and the ability to bully her as she has others may not be there for Murphy.
Murphy’s style is primarily boxing-based, she has good long shots, she sticks to the basics but has solid enough power and technique to make everything count. On the outside, she has difficulty matching with better strikers in the kicking game but has good timing to land the straight right opposite a kick to the body. It will be difficult to time this against Shevchenko who has the diversity in her kicking arsenal to make the read and reaction troublesome.
Lauren Murphy has a very narrow potential route to victory, on the outside Shevchenko is the better technical striker with more kicks to choose from and more ways to set them up. In the boxing range, it may be more competitive but Shevchenko still holds the technical advantage and is known for her ability to set traps as well as get better the duration of the match. Therefore it will be up to Murphy to coral the direction of this fight into being as ugly as possible, in order to negate the technical difference in their skill, Murphy will have to find a way inside and dirty box, and be liberal with her gas tank and pressure. Shevchenko likely has the advantage in pure conditioning but also in championship experience so attempting to win out the fight in rounds 4 and 5 may be a mistake on Murphy’s part.
In this sense it would be wise to put it on Shevchenko early when she traditionally tries to feel out the fight, if the success by dirty boxing doesn’t come, Murphy does have a well-versed ground game but should look to drag down Shevchenko against the cage and stuff as many of her tools as possible. Murphy has a good transition by pinning her opponent’s neck against the cage, trapping their legs in mount, and elevating them sideways before throwing strikes. Battling it out in a pure grappling match out in the open leaves Murphy at a greater disadvantage so she must make it as uncomfortable and as unfamiliar as possible for Shevchenko.
Shevchenko vs. Murphy Prediction
Ultimately, each of these aspects that Murphy needs to push for in order to win is only accessible by walking through the fire. As she tries to bridge the gap and get inside to box she is going to run into sniper shots, as Shevchenko is extremely good at staying on her bike forcing her opponents to chase and countering. When Murphy does get to the clinch, Shevchenko has some of the best Judo in the octagon let alone the division, and knows how to fight for overhooks and threaten with trips and throws in order to never let Murphy get offense off or even settle into a good position.
The route to victory is very narrow for Murphy and I think that if she gets stuck and finds herself unable to stay on the path it’s absolutely game over and Shevchenko has all the experience and skill to make sure that path is near impossible.
Prediction: Valentina Shevchenko via stoppage
UFC 266 happens this Saturday night and will air live exclusively on
Braeden Arbour is an aspiring journalist out of Ontario, Canada. He is a recent graduate of Trent University, with a black belt in Karate and a blue belt in Judo. He has also been an avid fan of MMA for the last decade.