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The Ultimate Fighting Championship machine never stops, and its slow conquest of South America continues on Saturday with UFC Fight Night 156 in Montevideo, Uruguay. After visits to Chile and Argentina, it seems a bit of an odd choice for the promotion’s third trip to the continent outside of Brazil, but this shapes up as a solid card by regional standards. The headlining bout between women’s flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko and Liz Carmouche remains the obvious standout, but the Vicente Luque-Mike Perry co-main event should be a war; and the prelims feature some fun prospects with the potential for upward mobility.
Now to the UFC Fight Night “Shevchenko vs. Carmouche 2” preview:
Women’s Flyweight ChampionshipValentina Shevchenko (17-3) vs. Liz Carmouche (13-6)
ODDS: Shevchenko (-1250), Carmouche (+800)
The UFC women’s flyweight division is finally starting to sort itself out, and as expected, everything revolves around Shevchenko. Her run at bantamweight was both extremely successful and extremely frustrating. Shevchenko announced herself as a contender immediately upon her UFC debut: In late 2015, she stepped in on late notice to face perennial contender Sarah Kaufman, and despite her muay Thai background, she used her wrestling and grappling to earn a decision. That got her an immediate No. 1 contender bout against Amanda Nunes, and while Shevchenko lost that fight in close fashion, she remained near the top of the division with wins over Holly Holm and Julianna Pena, earning a title rematch with Nunes just a year and a half later. However, in that title fight, Nunes and Shevchenko’s approaches mixed like oil and water, with a lot of the challenger’s issues coming home to roost. Shevchenko has historically been dedicated to countering, and with Nunes cautious to avoid her gas tank issues that surfaced in their first fight, the two did not do much of anything over the course of 25 excruciating minutes. There has always been a feeling that Shevchenko could let go and leave more of an imprint upon her fights, and the Nunes rematch was where this was most apparent. With an opportunity to be champion staring her in the face, Shevchenko was content to coast to a loss until she finally pressed the action in the last minute of the bout. It still left her on the losing end of a close fight. From there, it was down to her natural weight class at 125 pounds, and thankfully, a lot of those issues have remedied themselves. There is still some conservatism to Shevchenko’s style, but her strength advantage down a weight class has helped a ton in terms of her ability to dictate the fight when she chooses to wrestle; and during the times she has chosen to spend on the feet at flyweight, there has been a bit more going on. For the 26 seconds that the second round of her fight against Jessica Eye lasted, Shevchenko did a masterful job of using kicks to the body to set up a head kick knockout that ranks among the most brutal finishes of the year. The sad part is that there is not an obvious rival to step up and challenge Shevchenko. Even so, it may actually be fun to watch her reign over the division until things start to turn over, with Carmouche serving as the latest contender to step up to the plate.
Carmouche is actually the only woman besides Nunes to earn a win over Shevchenko, owing to a doctor stoppage on a card in 2010. Shevchenko has obviously evolved since then, while Carmouche has gone on to make some history, taking on Ronda Rousey in the first women’s fight in Ultimate Fighting Championship history at UFC 157 and later participating in the promotion’s first fight in Madison Square Garden against Katlyn Chookagian. In broad strokes, the overall equation of Carmouche’s style has not changed much over the years, as it is still mostly dependent on her wrestling and physical strength. When she can win grappling exchanges and bully her opponents, the “Girl-Rilla” can live up to her nickname and score a dominant win, but when that is not the case, things start to get a bit dicey. Carmouche’s striking tends to come and go from fight to fight, but even if things are clicking, the concern is always that she can get outworked in terms of output. Those concerns were immediately brought to light upon Carmouche’s debut at 125 pounds against Alexis Davis. The cut down in weight figured to further magnify Carmouche’s strength advantage, but against a deceptively strong former bantamweight in Davis, she found herself on the losing end of a close fight mostly due to the Canadian’s willingness to work harder to win rounds. Thankfully for Carmouche, wins against Jennifer Maia and Lucie Pudilova over the last year-plus have proven that she can fall back on winning a grind as a flyweight. However, for all the problems that Carmouche can cause Shevchenko, the opposite might be just as true.
Even beyond the history between the two women, Carmouche is as interesting a challenger as any for Shevchenko at the moment, mostly thanks to her physical gifts. Shevchenko’s secret strength has always been her wrestling and clinch work, and if anyone has a chance of being strong enough to neutralize that part of her game, it is probably Carmouche. However, even if Carmouche manages to limit Shevchenko’s options, it is hard to see how she can unseat the champion. If Carmouche can turn Shevchenko’s grappling attempts into stalemates, the same is probably true in the inverse, so at best, the challenger is probably going to either turn things into such an unbearable grind that the decision becomes a coin flip or attempt to win a kickboxing match against the champion. The latter probably will not go well. Shevchenko has been more willing to lead on the feet at 125 pounds, but even if Carmouche stays defensive enough to slow things to a crawl, “Bullet” will probably still be the more precise striker. In general, it is difficult to envision how Carmouche lands much in the way of effective offense. Overall, this looks like a tough-but-safe win for Shevchenko; a Carmouche victory probably comes via a narrow decision, and even then, that would be the type of stalemate fight that Shevchenko still has a chance of squeaking out on the scorecards. If Shevchenko makes this look easy, either in the wrestling department or just by showing some long-overdue aggression on the feet, it will be legitimately impressive. The pick is Shevchenko by decision.
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