It’s been a year of ups and downs for Valentina Shevchenko. Following a dominant victory in February in over Priscila Cachoeira, a title shot seemed like a natural progression in the uncharted, newly-minted flyweight division.
After what felt like an eternity, a fight with champion Nicco Montano finally was slated for UFC 228 in September before being abruptly cancelled when Montano was forced to withdraw. When the TUF winner was stripped of the title, fans salivated at the prospect of Shevchenko squaring off with former strawweight champ Joanna Jędrzejczyk for the vacant belt. After a series of fits and starts, that bout will finally go down on Saturday, and the division will emerge with an undeniable champ.
A happier 2018 storyline for Shevchenko was being united with her sister under the UFC promotional banner when Antonina Shevchenko secured a contract after winning her bout on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series. The inseparable duo have delighted in the experience, with Valentina cheering the loudest from the corner at her sister’s UFC debut at last week’s TUF Finale.
The positivity of that experience has clearly benefited Shevchenko who, relaxed and happy, sat down to talk with UFC.com about the past, the present and the future.
UFC: Starting with your sister’s debut win at the TUF Finale on Friday, and now just days away from your own title shot, this has been a pretty eventful week for you. How are you feeling right now?
VS: First it was my training camp, then my sister’s fight week, now it’s my fight week… It goes by so fast. It was all action, no time to stop and relax.
UFC: Is it harder to fight or to watch your sister fight?
VS: I’d say it’s harder when I watch her. Because when I fight by myself, I know exactly that everything is in my hands. My success: in here [gestures to her hands]. When I watch her fight, I know that she’s very strong and very confident in her power, but it’s something you cannot control. You’re more nervous.
UFC: Your sister will be in your corner Saturday just like you were in hers last Friday. Not all siblings get along as well as you two seem to. What’s it like to hear her in your corner?
VS: I’m happy. I’s so, so happy that we are now in the UFC together. First UFC sisters ever. We used to compete in the same Muay Thai organizations under the same rules…now finally we are reunited again in the same spirit. It’s difficult for me to say how it feels, because I had it every time. I can’t imagine my corner without her. It’s the most valuable thing I can have in my life.
UFC: You and your sister train all over the place, in different states, countries and climates. Some fighters would find that uncomfortable, but it seems to work for you.
VS: It’s our lifestyle to travel. I think it’s a great opportunity. When you travel to new places, you’re meeting different and interesting people, and it’s wonderful. And more, you have the opportunity to train with different sparring partners, and anytime [you can do that] it’s useful for any fighter because we have much different styles. On your fight [night] you won’t be surprised by anything, you’re ready for any kind of opponent.
UFC: What’s it like to be back fighting for a belt, this time in the flyweight division?
I’m very happy to finally fight in my weight class and not be struggling with these bigger, heavier opponents and having to be thinking about fight tactics or fight strategy. You have to think not only about the fight, but about the distance…different weight is different power. To get that power straight to your face? Nobody wants this, and you have to think about how to avoid this.
But now I can finally think just about the fight.
UFC: You sparred with Rose Namajunas. Do you think that will be helpful experience heading into Saturday?
VS: For this Saturday, what will help me is my strength and my power and everything that I have. I already faced Joanna three times in Muay Thai and won three times. I think that [experience] is what will best help me in this fight.
UFC: Speaking of those three fights, do you think it gives you a mental edge Saturday, knowing that you’ve beaten her before, even though it wasn’t MMA?
VS: For me, I’m not carrying nothing from the past. Of course, any experience helps. But I’m very focused on what’s going on right now or in the future. For me, my future is this Saturday, December 8. What I can take from those fights, I took. I’m not the kind of person sitting and saying “oh I won three times so I’m not going to be training hard.” It’s not like this. To gain the victory and be successful this Saturday, you have to train hard…and I trained very hard.
Of course I watched a lot of Joanna’s recent fights, but… I already know her power, her speed, her distance. I already faced it three times, and this is good. When you face someone new, you have to take decisions very fast during the fight. But now the decisions are already taken.
UFC: It has been almost a year since we’ve seen you fight, and it seemed a fight was close at UFC 228. How did you emotionally deal with the frustration of having to wait so long for this opportunity?
VS: Oh, I’m ready. Physically, mentally…I’m ready. Of course, in the moment that it happens it’s frustrating. But like I said, I’m not the person who carries all these things from the past. I already let it go. I’m refocused. I’m re-programmed for December 8. I’m here in the present moment, not the past.
UFC: How will you and your sister celebrate this week after Saturday?
VS: I don’t like to plan nothing. I’m focused on the fight, and then all the celebrating will come by itself.
Steve Latrell is a writer and producer for UFC.com. Follow him on Twitter @TheUFSteve