Valentina Shevchenko made it look easy against Lauren Murphy in the UFC 266 co-main event. But that was always kind of the goal.
The reigning flyweight queen pitched a virtual shutout for three rounds against a gun shy Murphy before pouring it on in Round 4 to earn a stoppage with elbows and punches at the 4:00 mark of the period at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday night.
“Lauren, she’s a tough opponent,” Shevchenko said at the UFC 266 post-fight press conference. “She’s physical and very strong, but I wanted to play my game. My ultimate goal as a martial artist is to reach the level when your opponents, when they’re fighting each other, [they appear to be] furious, powerful, very strong. But when they fight me, it’s like, they cannot touch you, but you can finish them. It’s kind of like what I want [to] be as a martial artist: untouchable. This is kind of next level of martial artist.”
Shevchenko has come close to achieving that goal during her 125-pound championship reign. On Saturday, she earned her seventh victory in title bouts, the second most of any female in UFC history behind only Amanda Nunes. Does Shevchenko believe she has achieved that “untouchable” status?”
“I’m on my way,” she said.
Since dropping from bantamweight, Shevchenko has rarely been tested. Her five-round verdict over Joanna Jedrzejczyk to claim the vacant flyweight strap has arguably been her most difficult test, but ensuing opponents have rarely, if ever, been able to threaten the champion. That’s why finding challenges at 125 pounds can prove to be difficult.
Case in point: Shevchenko dominated Jessica Andrade en route to a second-round TKO at UFC 261, but Andrade still appears to be head and shoulders above most contenders at 125 pounds. At UFC 266, Andrade dominated Cynthia Calvillo in a first-rund technical knockout victory in another featured flyweight affair.
“In the flyweight division, there are so many strong fighters,” Shevchenko said. “I didn’t know how the fight was going to be [between] Jessica Andrade and Cynthia Calvillo. Cynthia was kind of top-level but Jessica just smashed her, so I don’t know who’s the next opponent but I can say in [the] flyweight division, there is every time more and more names coming up so I’m ready to fight all of them.”
Shevchenko’s dominance at 125 pounds will always lead to questions regarding a trilogy with two-division queen Amanda Nunes. Nunes is 2-0 against Shevchenko, but both bouts were extremely competitive, particularly their second meeting with the bantamweight crown on the line. Thus far, the promotion hasn’t shown much interest in a third booking. As always, Shevchenko remains open to the possibility if the stars align.
“I never was choosing my opponents …If they have a name for me, I accept the fight,” she said. “I want to fight the best in the world. This is how you prove that you are the best, right? If destiny wants to make [the Nunes fight] happen, I’m here. Right now, here.”
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