On the surface, Valentina “Bullet” Shevchenko is the antithesis to her nickname. With a sunny disposition and a contagious smile, she resembles a rom-com lead more than a fighter. Yet she is the #2 bantamweight in the world and was arguably one failed takedown away from being #1.
A small advantage
At 5′ 5″, Shevchenko makes other WMMA bantamweights look like giants. Unlike most shorter fighters though, Shevchenko doesn’t have gorilla strength. She doesn’t have blinding speed or earth-shattering power. It’s hard to tell whether or not she has a good chin since WMMA power-hitting is so rare.
But Shevchenko’s size has two distinct advantages: she’s compact and she’s quick. People may scoff at the notion that Shevchenko can be quick without being fast, but it’s important to understand the spirit behind that distinction. Speed is a matter of explosiveness while quickness is a matter of efficiency.
The diminutive Russian understands where to go and how to get there better than anyone in the division. I’m talking about everything from footwork to striking to head movement performed with admirable efficiency. She’s a fighter who gets more dangerous the longer a fight goes on because opponents tend to fade as she stays steady. But instead of doing it with a huge cardio advantage, she simply partitions her energy wisely.
Pedigree with substance
While combat sport achievements outside of MMA are good for marketing, it’s always a mixed bag as to whether they’ll translate in the octagon. For every Olympic wrestler like Daniel Cormier, we have a BJJ practitioner like Travis Lutter. Luckily for fans, Shevchenko has translated like the former. As a world muay-thai champion, Shevchenko is arguably the most defensively sound WMMA fighter in the UFC right now.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk matches Shevchenko in terms of translating her muay-thai pedigree on the side of offense, yet she lost to the Russian twice in competition. I’m not exaggerating when I say that if Shevchenko spent an entire fight only focused on defense, she’d likely emerge unscathed. Her head movement, slips and back steps benefit from her aforementioned efficiency.
Holly Holm may be on a skid, but she was still a large and skilled striker with knock out power. Holm has struggled mostly against women who can match her size and outmatch her in power and strength. Shevchenko ticks none of those boxes, but she still timed and stifled Holm to win a decision.
Heck, the only fighter to beat Shevchenko in the UFC is bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes and even she had immense trouble. In the first fight, Nunes full-power swings were easily dodged and Shevchenko returned fire huge elbows. Shevchenko forced Nunes to forgo her power-hitting in the rematch and only lost on a failed takedown attempt.
I mentioned that unlike most small fighters, Shevchenko isn’t freakishly athletic. That may be a source of admiration but it certainly has its drawbacks as well.
Nunes took a decision in both of their fights because she was simply able to muscle Shevchenko to the ground. Arm bar victory over Julianna Pena aside, Shevchenko isn’t very good off her back and opponents can keep top position for entire rounds. Since women’s wrestling has little support at the high school or collegiate level, it won’t bite Shevchenko too hard over the course of her career.
Regardless, the pint-sized technician is one of the best fighters in the world at her weight class. The reason that this is a preview and not a prediction piece is because Shevchenko so far ahead of everyone but the champion that it’s not worth it.
Take that to the bank.