Valentina Shevchenko beat Holly Holm at her own game.
The Kyrgyzstani muay Thai machine announced her presence as a legitimate title contender in the Ultimate Fighting Championship women’s bantamweight division with a five-round unanimous decision over Holm in the UFC on Fox 20 headliner on Saturday at the United Center in Chicago. All three cageside judges scored it 49-46 for Shevchenko (13-2, 2-1 UFC).
Holm (10-2, 3-2 UFC) had a brief glimmer of hope in the first round, as she knocked down “The Bullet” with a short right uppercut. From there, it was all downhill. Shevchenko forced the former champion to lead, countering beautifully with sneaky right hooks and piercing jabs. The 28-year-old also targeted the inside of Holm’s lead leg with kicks and mixed in tactical takedowns when the mood arose. Shevchenko’s confidence grew as the rounds passed, and Holm appeared to be more and more gunshy in the face of consistent counterstrikes.
Shevchenko has gone 6-1 across her last seven outings, falling only to Amanda Nunes, the woman who now holds the 135-pound crown.
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Barboza Kicks Stymie Melendez
In the lightweight co-main event, former Ring of Combat champion Edson Barboza kept his stock moving in the right direction with a decisive unanimous decision over Gilbert Melendez at 155 pounds. All three cageside judges sided with Barboza (18-4, 12-4 UFC): 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28.
Melendez (22-6, 1-4 UFC) had his moments but too often found himself at the mercy of the Brazilian’s most devastating weapon. Barboza weathered an overhand right from “El Nino” in the second round and chewed up the two-time Strikeforce titleholder’s lead leg with tenderizing kicks. Shin met thigh repeatedly, complete with a sickening thud. By the time the third round arrived, it was clear that Melendez was compromised. The Santa Ana, California, native never strayed from the fight but lacked the tools necessary to author the finish he needed, as he was essentially forced to compete on one leg.
Barboza, 30, has won eight of his past 11 bouts, losing only to Tony Ferguson, Michael Johnson and Donald Cerrone.
Ngannou Spoils Mihajlovic Debut
Francis Ngannou disposed of Octagon newcomer Bojan Mihajlovic with first-round punches in a featured heavyweight clash. Mihajlovic (10-4, 0-1 UFC) succumbed to blows 93 seconds into round one, as the defeat -- his first in more than a decade -- brought an end to his 10-fight winning streak.
An emerging force in the UFC’s thin heavyweight division, Ngannou (8-1, 3-0 UFC) fought with patience and purpose. He clipped Mihajlovic with a left hook along the fence, followed him to the canvas after a failed takedown attempt and let loose with punches and hammerfists until referee Herb Dean had seen enough.
Ngannou has won seven fights in a row, all of them finishes.
Herrig Choke Submits Curran
Felice Herrig submitted Kailin Curran with a first-round rear-naked choke in a women’s strawweight showcase. Curran (4-3, 1-3 UFC) requested intervention from referee John McCarthy 1:59 into round one.
Herrig (11-6, 2-1 UFC) softened the Hawaiian with a series of body kicks, powered into top position after a takedown and went to work. “The Ultimate Fighter 20” alum passed to side control and then advanced to the back with a silky-smooth transition. Before Curran realized what was happening, Herrig’s arms were laced around her neck. The tapout followed a brief but fruitless struggle.
The 31-year-old Herrig has rattled off six wins in eight outings dating back to April 2012.