The definition of the phrase “Citizen of the World” should have a photo of Valentina Shevchenko next to it, and her willingness to travel the globe over the course of her duties as a professional fighter hasn’t dimmed in the lead-up to her Saturday bout in Toronto against Joanna Jedrzejczyk.
“Travel for me, my team and my coach Pavel, it’s like a natural lifestyle,” said Shevchenko, who saw Maine, Las Vegas and Los Angeles this time around in preparation for her UFC 231 co-main event. “I cannot live without traveling because travel gives me everything. You can explore new places, explore something new for you, meet great people. It’s amazing that in our life at this time we have the possibility to travel without having too much trouble.”
Being on the road has been a way of life for the Kyrgyzstan native since she was a child, first locally around the age of eight, then internationally from the age of 12.
“Travel was always a special part of my life,” said Shevchenko, whose martial arts journey began when she was five.
Twenty-five years later, the stakes are higher, the lights are brighter, but other than that, nothing has really changed for Shevchenko, who shares her calling with her mom, her sister Antonina, and her longtime coach, Pavel Fedotov.
“Travel, competition, exploring new places, training, it’s all combined,” she said. “It’s one big thing. And in my family, it’s more than just a sport. Martial arts is our lifestyle.”
That means every fight is more than just a fight. And none is bigger than this one, her second shot at a world title in the UFC. Yet for someone who has been able to find a home wherever she hangs her hat, when she first arrived in the UFC in 2015, she felt that there wasn’t a true place for her.
“When I signed with UFC, I didn’t have any option, only to fight 135 or 115, so without cutting one pound, I chose 135 because I felt strong in this weight class,” she said.
Giving up size and strength in practically every matchup, Shevchenko still went 3-2 in the bantamweight division, defeating Sarah Kaufman, Holly Holm and Julianna Pena, with her only losses being close decisions to current champion Amanda Nunes. But after that second defeat to Nunes in September 2017, the home she wanted finally opened up.
“It was different to fight someone bigger,” she said of life at 135 pounds. “Every time, it was thinking about the right tactics for the fight and how you have to manage this size of the opponent. Now, with more weight classes for females in the UFC, I’m very happy that I can finally fight in my best weight, where I feel just great.”
In February, she tore through Priscila Cachoeira, finishing the Brazilian in the second round. Next up was supposed to be a flyweight title fight against Nicco Montano in September, but weight cutting issues forced Montano from the bout. The New Mexico native was later stripped of the title, and Shevchenko was matched up with a familiar foe in Jedrzejczyk, who “Bullet” defeated three years in a row in the World Muay Thai Championships.
The last meeting between the two was in 2008, basically making anything that happened then irrelevant in a mixed martial arts fight a decade later. But Shevchenko did note that the Poland native was someone to keep an eye on.
“Joanna has character, and every time she has a goal, she goes for it,” she said. “I saw that from the very first fight and, of course, that’s why she became who she became.”
Jedrzejczyk became a strawweight champion in the UFC while Shevchenko came perilously close to winning bantamweight gold. Now, they meet for the vacant flyweight belt in a fight that may very well be the best technical clash in women’s MMA history.
Those are high expectations. Shevchenko believes they’ll deliver on them.
“This is no secret,” she said. “It will be a very good standup fight. I think the fans want to see the real fight and what will happen in the 125 division. It was a mess for a little more than half a year, and everyone wants to see the real fight between two real fighters.”
That’s all this fight needs to sell it. There’s no need for bad blood, social media wars, or anything of that nature. Just two elite fighters at the top of their game with 25 minutes or less to settle their business. As for their past bouts and what they mean, Shevchenko isn’t concerned with such matters.
“I’m not trying to put myself inside her head and try to understand what she’s thinking,” Shevchenko said. “I’m just doing my job and I just prepare myself as much as I can. I know if I go to that point, nothing and no one can stop me.”
Not even Joanna?
“I expect to give and leave everything inside the Octagon,” she said. “And I will not leave it without the belt. This is goal number one. I’m very confident in my power and everything that I have and I know it will be a great standup fight. I will just do everything that I know and…”