It wasn’t the opponent she expected at UFC 254, but Lauren Murphy made the most of what could have been a tricky situation against short-notice replacement Liliya Shakirova on Saturday in Abu Dhabi.
Originally slated to face fellow Top 10 flyweight Cynthia Calvillo, Murphy was forced to change course when a positive COVID-19 test forced Calvillo off the card late last week. With not much to gain against a relatively unheralded foe, Murphy scored the first submission victory of her pro career, tapping out Shakirova with a rear-naked choke at the 3:31 mark of Round 2.
“It feels great. My confidence is probably the No. 1 thing that I’ve improved, my striking is the second thing that I’ve improved the most,” Murphy said. “Just going through the process and staying calm has been huge. I’ve gotten a ton of help; it takes a village to make a fighter.
“I utilize the best of the best in every aspect. I have the best sports psychologist, the best nutritionist, the best strength and conditioning. I have the best striking coaches, the best grappling coaches. Literally, I hand-picked a team to be around me that is the best of the best, and I think it’s showing.”
After struggling to losses in three of her first four UFC appearances, Murphy is currently on a four-bout winning streak that includes notable triumphs over flyweight contenders such as Roxanne Modafferi and Andrea Lee.
Still, Murphy believes she is an underappreciated commodity at 125 pounds.
“Hopefully everyone will stop overlooking me,” Murphy said. “Almost my whole career, I’ve been the underdog, people have looked past me and I think that’s going to stop now. I’ve really grown into myself as an athlete, I’m a veteran in this game. I’ve seen it all, I’ve done it all and I think people are not going to look past me anymore.”
Rather than being rebooked against Calvillo, Murphy believes she has done enough to earn a flyweight title shot in her next Octagon appearance. That might not come until next year, as reigning champion Valentina Shevchenko is slated to defend her crown against Jennifer Maia at UFC 255 on Nov. 21.
“I want a title shot next. I want a shot at the champion, whoever that may be,” Murphy said. “I yelled at the media to stop overlooking me. Stop overlooking me, I’m ranked No. 5 right now, what is that?”
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