UFC 231 is now available on Amazon Prime.
Valentina Shevchenko returns to the Octagon for the 7th time Saturday when she takes on longtime rival and former Ultimate Fighting Championship queen, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, in the co-main event of UFC 231. The two have fought on three occasions in muay Thai, with Shevchenko winning all three bouts. But now they meet again a decade later, this time for UFC gold.
Shevchenko is one of the most decorated strikers in MMA and she has perfectly translated her skills from kickboxing for success in the cage. As a pure counter striker, Shevchenko does her best work with her counter lead hook and she has the timing and understanding of angles to land it with ease in MMA. Against a fellow counter striker in Holly Holm, Shevchenko knew she could outlast Holm on the counter, refused to lead outside of a few exchanges and waited for “The Preacher’s Daughter” to grow impatient, abandon her game plan and move forward, thus opening herself to the counter lead hook.
Shevchenko also excels at spinning counter-attacks, something that is rarely successful in any combat sport, but Shevchenko has perfected. In her kickboxing days she would routinely look for counter turning sidekicks to the body, but since transitioning to MMA she has fallen in love with the counter spinning back fist. She will still occasionally throw the counter sidekick. For a fighter to have success with normal counters they must possess incredible timing and ability to read opponents to know what’s coming before it’s even thrown. But spinning counter attacks require more time and space to land clean, and Shevchenko might be the only female in MMA with the reading ability to create enough space to land them.
About the only thing Shevchenko has changed since transitioning to MMA is how often she is the leading attacker. Shevchenko understands that most mixed martial artists do not possess the tools necessary to deal with an elite counter striker, so she limits the number of times she leads and elects to sit back and wait for opponents to come to her. Although she rarely works on the lead in MMA and her biggest weakness is not having enough urgency, we have examples from her kickboxing and muay Thai career that she can be effective on the lead with brief combos that are generally capped off with a kick.
In her muay Thai days, Shevchenko would routinely duck under strikes to initiate the clinch and dump them to the ground Saenchai style. Since there is no ground grappling in muay Thai, this is done to score points and reset the action but in MMA she can use this skill to break up her striking and add another threat to her game. There is very little footage of the first three fights between Shevchenko and Jedrzejczyk but from the highlight videos, we can see how often Shevchenko was able to dump her to the ground from the clinch. Joanna is at her best when walking opponents down with quick combos, which can leave her open for counter strikes and takedowns. Although neither are grapplers, It wouldn’t be surprising to see Shevchenko use her clinch striking and takedowns more than ever to keep Joanna guessing, especially since the former champ is not a threat on the ground.
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