UFC Women’s Flyweight ChampionshipValentina Shevchenko (15-3) vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk (15-2)
ODDS: Shevchenko (-340), Jedrzejczyk (+280)
The crowning of Shevchenko as UFC women’s flyweight champion has felt inevitable for a while now, but at least all the delays in getting there have resulted in an interesting matchup. Shevchenko became an immediate contender upon her UFC debut, stepping in against Sarah Kaufman and earning a decision win; the ensuing three years have been a combination of success and frustration. Shevchenko has scored some big wins over the likes of Holly Holm and Julianna Pena, but her two losses to Amanda Nunes have starkly shown why she often leaves everyone wanting more. Their first bout was solid enough, as Shevchenko overcame a rough first round to take over late against a gassed Nunes, but when Nunes adjusted and conserved her energy in the second fight, Shevchenko showed nothing.
Shevchenko is just an extremely risk-averse fighter, and against a finisher like Nunes, the result was just 25 minutes of both women not doing much of anything. Shevchenko has only had one fight at 125 pounds in the UFC, but even that showcase win over Priscila Cachoeira turned into a much more extended beatdown than was needed, as she decided to take the safe approach once again and work from top position. As far as the rest of Shevchenko’s 2018 campaign, the less that is said the better. Nicco Montano’s botched weight cut scuttled Shevchenko’s initial chance at the belt, and the UFC’s threats to have her headline Madison Square Garden against Sijara Eubanks were thankfully empty. Now it is finally time for the “Bullet” to claim her flyweight crown, though Jedrzejczyk figures to be a tough test.
It is good to see Jedrzejczyk move up to flyweight, as the former strawweight champion really had nothing left to prove down at 115 pounds. She became a cult favorite in short order once she hit the UFC roster. Her absolute destruction of Carla Esparza to claim the strawweight title gave her a platform to show off her weird charisma, as she is happy to show off her love of Disney or her sneaker collection when she is not elbowing someone’s head into a fine paste. That Esparza win kicked off a dominant run as the strawweight queen. The finishes dried up after one more buzzsaw performance over Jessica Penne, but Jedrzejczyk developed into a precise range kickboxer with some strong clinch weapons as she turned away each challenger without much trouble. As the UFC looked to add flyweights, there was talk of Jedrzejczyk returning to her original weight class to become a two-division champion, but Rose Namajunas wound up derailing those hopes in shocking fashion. Namajunas was a huge underdog heading into UFC 217, but her length gave “Joanna Champion” a ton of issues, which resulted in Jedrzejczyk’s reign coming to a swift end after a first-round knockout. Jedrzejczyk claimed that a bad weight cut was the major issue, and while a much better performance in the rematch lends some credence to that, it still ended in another loss, leaving her somewhat aimless as she angled for another rematch. A one-sided win over Tecia Torres affirmed that Jedrzejczyk has not lost a step, and rather than charge right back into a uniquely difficult style matchup against Namajunas, it is nice to see her move to flyweight and give Shevchenko what should be her toughest challenge.
This is a hard one to call. Shevchenko figures to be the naturally larger fighter, and that seems to be the crux of this fight but may not matter as much as expected. A lot has been made of Shevchenko’s previous wins over Jedrzejczyk in muay Thai competition, but “Joanna Champion” may get the better of the striking exchanges here. Both women are precise, but their reach appears to be equal and, frankly, Jedrzejczyk can be trusted a lot more to actually throw strikes and win rounds. In contrast, Shevchenko’s obvious path to victory is in the clinch. That is where she naturally prefers to be anyway, and outside of the reach issues that Namajunas presented, Jedrzejczyk’s main problem has been when an opponent can simply pin her against the cage. It remains unclear whether or not Shevchenko can do so. She is good at it, but Jedrzejczyk is the more active clinch striker. There is also the issue of whether or not moving up to 125 pounds will mean Jedrzejczyk suddenly has enough strength to neutralize what should be Shevchenko’s main advantage. At the end of the day, it is probably the safer bet to rely on Shevchenko’s grappling game to provide her path to success, but depending on her to press an advantage enough to earn a clear-cut win is always a bit difficult. This is essentially a coin-toss fight, but the pick is Shevchenko via decision.
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