Once again, the queen of the flyweight division puts her title on the line against the next top contender. Valentina Shevchenko, now on her seventh title defense, will take on Brazilian powerhouse, Taila Santos.
The champion, fresh off of her most recent win in September, has won 8 in a row and sits undefeated at flyweight. Of her six defenses as of now, four have come by way of finish, and all of these by knockout or TKO. At the same time, however, throughout these fights, her grappling and wrestling skills have also been on full display as she constantly recements herself not only as one of the best in the sport but also frighteningly dangerous anywhere and everywhere the fight goes.
As is and was the case for every of Shevchenko’s challengers, Santos has a very steep mountain in front of her. However, with four straight wins of her own and only one loss in all 20 of her professional fights, she will also be coming in with a high level of momentum. Known for her finishing ability, it’s important to note that a full 13 of her 19 wins have come by stoppage, with only six going the distance in order to lose a unanimous score to the Brazilian.
- Shevchenko: -900
- Santos: +575
Starting with the challenger, she is known as a heavy-handed fighter most prominently. She is extremely athletic, and when she throws she plants in her stance and perfectly shifts so that there is weight behind everything she lands. Fighting behind a high guard, she tends to take some level of impact from what her opponent throws but always minimal as the brunt of it deflects off her guard. This allows her to stay and counter or trade unlike if she were to depend more on evading than blocking and countering. However her best work is done via long boxing range, the whip to her punches are good and she is good at maintaining a range that allows her to land on the extent of her strikes. Specifically, her strengths are long straights, most of her shots come over the shoulder which make her uppercuts even trickier to read as it’s a completely different look. She is primarily a very fast Muay Thai style fighter with a viciousness when she smells the finish within reach.
When she needs to, or if her pressure forces her too far in, she is also powerful in the clinch. Particularly, her underhook and body lock positions are her go-to in order to drag the fight to the mat. On the ground, she doesn’t rush to pass but is rather happy to sit in the guard and dig her head underneath her opponent’s chin. The head positioning allows her to maintain control while landing to the body and accumulating damage and points. As she does so, especially against the cage, stuffing her opponent into awkward positions provides the opportunities she needs as they scramble back to their feet to transition further.
Shevchenko leaves little room to exploit regardless of the skills of her opponent, however. Against the best strikers in the world she has struck circles around them and against those believed could overpower her with pressure and grappling, succumbing to her takedowns and control. Most would consider the Kyrgyzstani fighter a striker but realistically that’s misleading as she does it all at the highest level.
She mostly fights southpaw and has a wicked variety of left round kicks to all targets. However, whatever it seems she is a consultant going back to is likely in order to engage a reaction to exploit later such as softening the body for the purpose of the late head kick. Although she fights out of a relatively classic Muay Thai stance, she is always on her toes bouncing in order to hide her movements and stay in position to move in and out and explode. For the most part, she tends to circle left to draw her opponent into her rear kicks. Some of her most prominent combinations she goes back to is her jab-low kick to jab high and her superman punch to rear leg kick. The latter of which is used especially well to bridge large distances in the fight very quickly. Another constant in her fights is her ability to slip with minimal movement and land the counter right hook.
Her takedowns come most via trip due to her ability to turn the angle on them. She will clinch up, be it double under or over-under and look to lace the outside leg but step off-angle to get them defending with their feet in a straight line. This entangles them and minimizes the possible resistance to the takedown. On the mat, the first priority for Shevchenko is to maintain control, and every attempt she poses to pass comes with a very tight upper body position already established. It seems her most favored route is to transition to half and then to crucifix en route to the finish.
Ultimately Shevchenko, over the past few years, has looked a head above the rest of her division in skill, and it’s up to each challenger to demonstrate why that perception is wrong. Julianna accomplished a similar feat against Amanda Nunes most recently to remind the masses that no fighter is truly invincible but it’s extremely difficult to pick anyone against Shevchenko given the lack of holes she provides to exploit in her fights. To beat her you have to be at the highest level everywhere, and the scariest thing is she is still improving as well.
Prediction: Valentina Shevchenko to win
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.