When Valentina Shevchenko dropped down into the newly formed flyweight division, the general feeling was that title was hers for the taking, and by the end of 2018, that came to fruition via a unanimous decision win over Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Since then, potentially no other champion has looked as invincible as “Bullet.” In her three title defenses, Shevchenko hasn’t really encountered any moments of adversity, often making it look easy en route to three wins and two finishes.
While Shevchenko wears championship life with ease, she did not come into it with any particular expectations or assumptions.
“I never think about something expecting something,” she told UFC.com. “(Because) then, you’re comparing your feelings and saying, ‘Oh, this is not the way what I was thinking,’ or, ‘Oh, this is way much more.’ I just try and experience it, to live it. I’m not waiting on something. I just live the moment, and I think this is the best. This is kind of like you are not expecting nothing. You just see how it is.”
To watch Shevchenko in training or in competition is to see the definition of clinical focus. Every movement seems calculated and trained to a tee. Each technique unveiled isn’t done so without mastery. Even the most microscopic examination of her game would be hard-pressed to find a particular weakness.
Mentally, Shevchenko is as bulletproof as her skill set. Although her title defenses have come with relative ease, she hasn’t fallen into the hubristic trap of believing your own hype that can derail even the greatest of competitors.
“I know I cannot afford to not train that hard or to relax a little bit,” Shevchenko said. “I have to go into the Octagon every time as if I go in there for the first time and forget that I am a UFC champion because inside the Octagon, there is only two people, and one wants your belt, and you don’t want to give it, and the best way not to give your belt to no one is to be in a great shape. This is what I know exactly.”
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With that internal pressure and motivation, an extension of Shevchenko’s title reign is as expected as anything in mixed martial arts. If not for Amanda Nunes, she likely would be considered the pound-for-pound greatest female mixed martial artist alive, and there are those who would make some noise about a robbery in her split decision loss to Nunes in their rematch.
That fight is many moons past, though, and what is certain is Shevchenko seems bulletproof at the moment and carries the mental fortitude to stay on the grind that has her on top. When it comes to forming a certain legacy, she isn’t searching for a mold to fill at all, but instead seeking her own ground to break.
“I don’t want to have to look on to someone,” Shevchenko said. “I’m not that kind of person. I do my own way in this world, and how I do it, it’s my own style. I’m not trying to pretend to be someone. No, it’s me. It’s me, and I hope that people will love it and probably will take this lifestyle for themselves, as well.”
If anything, Shevhcenko is a standard-setter, not only for the flyweight division, but for mixed martial artists as a whole. She said her mindset is something she has always carried with her, and she hopes to continue to keep the bar high for her weight class, which she believes holds the most potential in women’s MMA.
“I don’t know why people keep on saying that it’s very new or something like that,” she said. “If you see each fighter, top 10 contenders, even top 15 contenders, you can see how talented they are, what kind of good shows they can bring and, of course, everything was starting from the bantamweights, then the strawweights. They have more time, but if you see it realistically, flyweight, it’s much more interesting right now.”
Over the last few months, that has rung true as the likes of Jessica Andrade, Cynthia Calvillo, and Shevchenko’s opponent at UFC 255, Jennifer Maia, all made their bones in other weight classes before moving to flyweight.
As far as Maia goes, Shevchenko complimented her foe’s well-roundedness, but more than anything, she hopes the Brazilian brings her best foot forward because Shevchenko wouldn’t want it any other way. Shevchenko isn’t the type to fight to her opponent’s level; she fights the same way Nunes or another dominant champion like Khabib Nurmagomedov do. They come in fully ready to perform at their expected standard, and the meeting of those expectations is something to be celebrated and respected at the highest level.
Perhaps nobody on the UFC roster blends skills at the level and ease as Shevchenko, but she doesn’t forget her roots, and she honors the work she has put in to this point to make her the heavy favorite once again when the Octagon door closes behind her on November 21.
“It’s not something that easy,” Shevchenko said. “Maybe it looks like it’s easy now, but at the moment when I was starting my fighting career, starting my martial arts career, it was very hard. Even harder because I was born way, way, way far from here, but the way I became UFC champion, it was hard but super interesting, and this is the most important for me because as I was saying, a lot of times, it doesn’t matter how hard you work. If you love it, it’s not going to be that hard.”