Valentina Shevchenko carries with her the feeling of inevitability. Her all-around dominance as the flyweight champion has come with little resistance over the last two-plus years as she put together five title defenses, losing just two rounds in the process. Along the way, she’s carried the championship burden as well as anyone in the promotion, disputing the Shakespearian notion about the uneasiness with which a head wears a crown.
“I really love to work,” Shevchenko told UFC.com. “For example, I never felt that people were saying, ‘Oh, it’s too much pressure to be the champion,’ and (when) they lose their belt, they feel relieved. It’s wrong. It’s totally wrong. You won’t be happier without the belt. You won’t be because this is our fight spirit. This is what we are. We want to be number one. We want to be the best ones, and what is a better version than to hold the belt? This is number one. That’s why I am a kind of a person like that.”
Her stark dominance is why Jennifer Maia’s second-round takedown reversal and round-long control of Shevchenko felt so monumental. It would eventually end how all Shevchenko fights do these days – with “Bullet” imposing her will en route to victory. Shevchenko, afterward, said she fully expected a tough challenge from Maia, saying the only thing she would change about her performance is avoiding that ill-fated throw in the second round.
To her credit, Shevchenko hasn’t ever gone into a fight with any wisp of ignorance when it comes to her opponents, even when fans, bettors and peers alike all expect her to mow through challengers. With the flyweight division still in its early stages, Shevchenko turned into a sort of wood-chipper at the top, engulfing and spitting out contenders faster than the weight class can produce them, although an influx of young talent makes the division’s future an exciting one. That gap of championship-level experience, however, found its exciting filling when former strawweight champion Jessica Andrade made her emphatic flyweight debut, earning a first-round TKO win over Katlyn Chookagian in October 2020.
"I'm not living for just a moment [with the belt]."@BulletValentina describes the difference between her mentality and other fighters and gives her thoughts on facing Jessica Andrade at #UFC261 🔊⬆️— UFC News (@UFCNews) April 20, 2021
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That performance earned Andrade a chance to earn a belt in a second weight class, and she is perhaps Shevchenko’s most anticipated title defense since she captured the belt over Joanna Jędrzejczyk at UFC 231. Shevchenko, however, isn’t all that fazed with her opponent’s credentials, while also giving her skill set the proper respect.
“You have to look at each of your opponents as special,” Shevchenko said. “This is what we are doing. We are watching her fights, we are analyzing what she is doing and definitely she has power - power to throw, power to do different things. She is throwing wild punches all over, and yes, definitely, according to everything that we see, we are doing our training camp. Every training session, we are working on different techniques that I have to work, but the main goal is to put myself in 100 percent shape. This is the number one because without this, you won’t be ready physically and mentally. It doesn’t matter what you do if you are not 200 percent in the fight. This is number one.”
Although Andrade is perhaps seen as Shevchenko’s most threatening contender strictly because of her one-shot power as well as her own championship experience, Shevchenko doesn’t give much time or credence to how that experience could help the Brazilian.
“Being a human, this is what makes the whole difference,” she said. “You’re thinking you’re going to have something like the best, but at the time of the fight, something goes wrong, and you are not feeling as you are supposed to feel. That is the biggest difference, and definitely I cannot say what she is thinking, what she is feeling, but definitely I can say what I feel and what I think about the fight.
“I will approach this fight like no matter what, I will win this fight.”
Valentina Shevchenko's Best Moments | International Women's Day
Valentina Shevchenko's Best Moments | International Women's Day
Even though the nature of capturing a UFC championship is inherently difficult, keeping the belt is notoriously burdensome. Wearing a target on one’s back would seem wearisome, not only to the everyday fan but even in the words of other fighters who’ve seen and experienced the brightest spotlight.
It’s what makes Shevchenko’s reign all the more impressive. Everyone expects excellence when she enters the Octagon, perhaps to unreasonable expectations. And yet, she continues to give people all the reason to expect something spectacular when her feet touch the canvas.
FREE FIGHT: Valentina Shevchenko vs Jennifer Maia
“I totally understand what is the best side of being a champion and what is your responsibility, what you have to do to maintain it,” she said. “If you live in one moment, you can lose your belt very easy. But this is not who I am. I’m not living just for a moment. I live for a constant. I work in the same way. I train the same way. This is the difference if comparing with other girls.”
She becomes a bit more candid when it comes to fighting in front of a full crowd again, which is what UFC 261 brings back into the mix. Shevchenko admitted the energy in the crowd less UFC APEX was a little strange, especially when she walked to the Octagon. In the Octagon, she was all-business (of course), only noting the ability to hear her opponent’s corner much clearer.
In terms of welcoming back the crowd in Jacksonville, Shevchenko said she won’t give it too much thought ahead of time, opting instead to just “feel it in the moment.” It’s an aspect to the sport many are anticipating, and perhaps it’ll inspire a few more spectacular moments to the spectators’ delight.
What’s certain, however, is Shevchenko will prioritize business over all else. It’s what makes her a great fighter and an equally great champion. Technically, she is on a tier few other mixed martial artists reach, and her ability to flow and crash when the occasion calls for it is something to admire and appreciate. It’s all a part of her intentions any time she steps into the Octagon: to win, to defend her belt and to put all her elite abilities on display. On April 24 against Andrade, as always, it is no different.
“I just want to show my martial arts,” Shevchenko said. “I just want to show my techniques and the beauty of martial arts. Just like, the power, the stubborn power when one is trying to prove who has stronger shins, who is going to fall first. I really want to show martial arts like it was the idea of Bruce Lee’s, the beauty of martial arts.”