It was supposed to give us Cody Garbrandt-T.J. Dillashaw for the Ultimate Fighting Championship bantamweight belt, and until recently, fan-favorite finishers Robbie Lawler and Donald Cerrone were supposed to meet. Both fights have been scrapped. Yet somehow, despite these dearly felt losses, UFC 213 remains a solid card. A rematch between women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes and Valentina Shevchenko has a lot to do with that. The two fought to a competitive decision in 2016, and now that Nunes holds the belt, Shevchenko may be the only one who can take it from her.
In the co-main event, Yoel Romero and Robert Whittaker compete for the interim middleweight title. Heavyweight legends Fabricio Werdum and Alistair Overeem will go toe-to-toe in a legacy-defining rubber match before that, and lightweight champion Anthony Pettis makes his return to 155 pounds in the main card opener, facing off against action fighter extraordinaire Jim Miller.
Let us take a closer look at each UFC 213 “Nunes vs. Shevchenko 2” matchup this Saturday at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, with analysis and picks:
UFC Women’s Bantamweight ChampionshipAmanda Nunes (14-4) vs. Valentina Shevchenko (14-2)
THE MATCHUP: The bantamweight division felt like a maelstrom after the fall of Ronda Rousey, with the title changing hands three times in the space of eight months. Currently, however, Nunes is making a strong case for the title of bantamweight queenpin. She obliterated Miesha Tate in the first round a year ago and then finished Rousey with clinical quickness and ferocity. While those are two impressive wins, Shevchenko may in fact be Nunes’ most dangerous challenge yet.
Nunes, like Conor McGregor, is a fighter who will likely always be troubled by the limits of her stamina. She is effective because she fights in bursts, but these bursts require a great deal of energy; and whereas McGregor at least demonstrated his ability to fight despite his tank running empty in the Nate Diaz rematch, Nunes has collapsed entirely throughout her career, with all but one of her losses coming in the second and third rounds. After Nunes announced that she would transition to training and fighting full-time in 2015, some hoped she would quickly develop a long game; however, the first fight with Shevchenko was nearly another typical loss for the Brazilian, who faded badly by the third round.
Nunes is about as fast as Shevchenko but more powerful and much more willing to take a bite out of whatever is offered her. While Nunes’ last two fights have ended notably via knockout and submission, wrestling and ground-and-pound remain her secret weapons. Shevchenko has skill in the clinch, but she is a slow starter. Julianna Pena was able to take and hold her down several times in the early portions of their fight, as was Nunes herself; in fact, she came close to both beating and choking Shevchenko into submission. While Nunes would be wise to watch her energy expenditure with a potential five rounds ahead of her, she will doubtless find some tempting opportunities early if she manages to take down Shevchenko.
Shevchenko is a counterpuncher to a fault. She will let long stretches of the fight go by without offering a single feint, angle or attack. Not only does her inactivity mean that she rarely creates an opportunity to strike, but it also allows her opponent to dictate the range and pace of the fight. The question in this meeting, then, is whether Nunes has the discipline to resist what appears to be a sitting duck. If so, then she may pick away at a waiting Shevchenko and grab a few precious rounds. If not, she may knock out or submit Shevchenko. More likely, the Kyrgyzstani “Bullet” will end up using however many of the last three rounds she needs to put away an exhausted Nunes.
THE ODDS: Shevchenko (-110), Nunes (-110)
THE PICK: Unless this fight reveals a newly matured Nunes, the result of her last encounter with Shevchenko begs to be considered. The current champion offered so little resistance when Shevchenko surged in the third round that the addition of two championship rounds can only hurt her. We could very well see a new Nunes, one who at least maintains her composure when the gas tank runs dry, but I would really be guessing were I to predict it. So long as she can survive the first few rounds -- the fact that she has already seen what the champion has to offer should help with that -- Shevchenko will win via fourth-round TKO.
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