In a division that has evolved into one of plentiful depth, Valentina Shevchenko is hoping to become the next women’s bantamweight to make a statement.
The title changed hands for the third consecutive time when Amanda Nunes finished Miesha Tate at UFC 200, leaving the door wide open for former champion Holly Holm to earn a rematch sooner than expected.
Holm makes her first appearance since dropping the title to Tate just months after putting on an upset performance for the ages to capture the title in the first place against legendary Ronda Rousey.
Saturday at United Center in Chicago, Illinois, Holm thinks she’s facing her toughest challenge to date in Shevchenko, a decorated Muay Thai world champion.
With the title picture as wide open as ever, Holm is determined to take out Shevchenko on her way back to the championship. But beating “Bullet” will be no easy task.
“Those Muay Thai fighters are tough as nails,” Holm said. “She’s been through battles before, through hard fights. She’s very mentally and physically strong and that makes her a very tough opponent. This is definitely a different style than my previous fights have been.”
The striking component of this fight is what has fans excited, but the nuances of Shevchenko’s underrated wrestling and superior ground game make the exchanges in close, and specifically in the clinch, all the more exciting.
Shevchenko plans to utilize every tool in her toolbox. She is aiming to finish Holm under the bright lights of the FOX main event free on national TV.
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“I will do everything that I know,” Shevchenko said. “I can fight standing, wrestling, grappling; so everything that helps me to win the fight – I will use it. But I think it will be interesting fight between two strikers, because Holly is a world champion of boxing and I’m 17-time world Muay Thai champion.”
Wherever the fight goes, Holm is ready. “The Preacher’s Daughter” lost her focus in the fifth round against Tate back in March, but she said that she’s determined to climb back up the mountain.
Shevchenko is confident in her striking. Asked if she thinks her standup game is better than Holm’s, she didn’t skip a beat responding.
“We’ll see on Saturday,” Shevchenko said.
That’s for sure. This one is definitely must-see TV. Don’t miss it live and free on FOX Saturday night. The main card begins at 8pm/5pm ETPT.
Matt Parrino is a digital producer and writer for UFC.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MattParrinoUFC