The celebrations took place from the United States to Kyrgyzstan when Valentina Shevchenko won the UFC women’s flyweight title in December, but for the new champion, it was nothing that was unexpected.
“During my fighting career I won 17 world championships,” said Shevchenko, a decorated kickboxer before she made the transition to pro MMA in 2003. “Everybody was asking how I was feeling when I won the UFC belt and I said the time when I was without the belt was the most strange for me. This is where I was supposed to be. This is my place. So this is where I am right now and I will do my best to hold this belt for as long as I can.”
Shevchenko’s MMA journey was expected to culminate in a bantamweight title, and it almost did when she took Amanda Nunes to a controversial split decision in 2017, but ultimately, the UFC’s introduction of a women’s flyweight division was what she needed to not just compete at her optimum weight, but to get the title she craved. And though “Bullet” was immediately seen as the class of the 125-pound weight class, she would have to first get past former strawweight champ Joanna Jedrzejczyk to get her belt.
And get past Jedrzejczyk she did at UFC 231 in Toronto, winning a dominant five-round unanimous decision.
“My performance in the last fight was fine,” Shevchenko said. “I won the belt and this is what’s important. And I’m happy with this performance, so now we have a new fight and a new history with a new opponent and we will make it happen.”
With a statement like that, it was clear that the 31-year-old wasn’t interested in a victory lap as champion, but she got one anyway, highlighted by a return home to Kyrgyzstan in April, where she was honored by President Sooronbay Jeenbekov.
“In Kyrgyzstan, the people all love martial arts,” she said. “MMA is the number one sport in our country. Everyone is watching UFC and of course everyone was excited to see the belt up close. It was a huge honor for me because the president of Kyrgyzstan, when I won my title, he called me to congratulate me and he gave me the Order of Glory. It’s a huge honor for me and a huge motivation for me.”
MORE UFC 238: Embedded Episode 3 | Embedded Episode 2 | Embedded Episode 1 | Cejudo & Moraes Media Tours | Aljamain Sterling | JoJo 2.0 | Tuivasa Is At Ease | Suarez Cherishes Every Moment | Petr Yan | Time For Cerrone | Jessica Eye | Fight by Fight Preview
It was a moment to remember for someone who has become a citizen of the world thanks to martial arts. Even the training camp for her first title defense against Jessica Eye this Saturday has seen the travel-loving Shevchenko visit Thailand, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Las Vegas. And that’s just business as usual.
“My lifestyle is pretty similar all the time, in training camp or out,” she said. “We are traveling every time and we are training all the time. It all depends on the intensity of the training. But every day we are training and maintaining our form.”
You hear fighters talking about this being a lifestyle, but no one lives it more than Shevchenko, who has been training since the age of five, even with the same coach – Pavel Fedotov – who has been there from the beginning. So if this all seems matter of fact for her, it is. Fighting – and winning – is what she does, and she expects to keep winning this weekend.
“I was following this goal for so long that I wanted to make it done finally,” she said of winning her first UFC belt. “I never thought about anything else but to be in my best shape at the right time when I’m inside the Octagon. This was everything that I was thinking about. I knew that I would face a very good opponent, a very strong opponent, but it doesn’t matter for me; I’m here to fight everyone and I will do my best. Nothing matters but victory.”
Of course, Cleveland’s Eye may have something to say about Shevchenko continuing her reign, and the champ is prepared for a fight in Chicago.
“Jessica Eye is a strong opponent and she has three consecutive victories,” Shevchenko said. “She’s a martial arts person, has a good standup game, good ground game, good wrestling game. But we are in the UFC; there are no easy opponents, and this was always my goal to fight the best ones, so I’m open for anyone and I’m ready for Jessica.”
She makes it all sound easy. And maybe to her, it is.
“My best advantage is my experience,” Shevchenko said. “I know my opponent, I studied her, I know what she’s gonna do, and this is the easy part.”