Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.
Valentina Shevchenko and Edson Barboza on Saturday in Chicago increased their stock in their respective decisions with hard-fought but clear decision victories over former champions at UFC on Fox 20. Shevchenko outpointed former Ultimate Fighting Championship women’s bantamweight titleholder Holly Holm over five rounds, while Barboza busted up two-time Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez’s lead leg en route to a unanimous three-round decision. Both fighters have positioned themselves as legitimate title contenders with the wins.
Shevchenko was making just her third UFC start after a long and distinguished muay Thai career. Holm was trying to bounce back from a fifth-round technical submission loss to Miesha Tate that cost her UFC gold in March. After a fleeting knockdown of her opponent in the opening frame, Holm struggled to muster much of an offense, as Shevchenko was content to sit back and counter the former boxing champion.
As for the victor, the Kyrgyzstan native -- Shevchenko fights out of Peru -- shook up an already jumbled 135-pound division with the upset. Holm was savaged by her promoter, as well as some media members, for refusing to wait for a rematch with Ronda Rousey after unexpectedly stopping the popular champion in November. She dropped her title in her first defense and was looking to reestablish herself as a potential title challenger.
The loss will certainly force Holm to the back of a scattered line chock full of women who feel they deserve a crack at newly minted champion Amanda Nunes. Shevchenko, whose only UFC loss came at the hands of Nunes, rightfully thinks she deserves the fight, while Tate, who just lost the belt at UFC 200, feels she deserves a rematch. Add in Rousey’s much-anticipated return and you have a litany of ladies who could stake a rightful claim to a challenger’s slot.
The lightweight division where Barboza operates is just as crazy, but positioning might not be the biggest problem for the talented Brazilian. You see, his training partner Eddie Alvarez just won the title after finishing Rafael dos Anjos in spectacular fashion earlier this month. Barboza dominated en route to his latest win but still showed he has some questions to answer when it comes to his sturdiness in the cage. Melendez, after having his left leg ground into hamburger, still nearly pulled of a remarkable comeback after clipping Barboza with a combination of punches that sent his foe to the canvas in the second round.
It was a good look for Barboza, who has wilted under pressure in the past, and perhaps bodes well for him as he moves up the 155-pound ladder. He stated after the bout that he’d love to face any of the fighters ranked above him by the promotion. Dos Anjos, Khabib Nurmagomedov or Tony Ferguson would all make for great eliminator fights; we’ll just have to wait and see what matchmaker Joe Silva and UFC President Dana White decide to do in the sport’s deepest and toughest division. I still wonder if being in camp with the current champion will stunt Barboza’s chances to get a number one contender fight.
As for Melendez, that was a pretty tough fight to return to after a 13-month layoff. It may be hard for some to feel sorry for the longtime veteran after he was suspended for a positive PED test after his loss to Alvarez in June 2015, but he’s been a perennial top-5 lightweight for over a decade, and I, for one, hope he can carve out a place in division. He’s got his work cut out for him in the shark tank that is the lightweight class.
Sherdog.com Executive Editor Greg Savage can be reached by email or via Twitter @TheSavageTruth.