Jennifer Maia attempts to become the first person to claim the UFC flyweight belt from dominant champion Valentina Shevchenko in the co-main event this weekend. Can Maia cause an upset or will Shevchenko defend her title for the fourth time?
Valentina Shevchenko (19-3) is the UFC flyweight champion and the best female flyweight in UFC history. She is currently ranked number three in the women’s pound for pound rankings and is aiming to defend her title for the fourth time to extend her current winning streak to six bouts.
Shevchenko joined the UFC in 2015 as a bantamweight with an 11-1 record and has amassed an 8-2 record since, including a perfect 5-0 at flyweight. “Bullet” has beaten former bantamweight champion, Holly Holm, by unanimous decision in July 2016, and her only two losses have come against current double champion at bantamweight and featherweight, Amanda Nunes.
The first bout with Nunes took place before either fighter had a UFC belt at UFC 196 with Nunes winning by unanimous decision and the rematch being for the 135lbs belt. In this second matchup, Nunes secured a split decision victory to retain her title at UFC 215 and Shevchenko has competed at flyweight since.
Unbeaten at flyweight, the Kyrgyzstani fighter won the 125lbs belt against former strawweight champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk by unanimous decision at UFC 231 and has defended three times. Shevchenko’s most recent fight saw her beat Katlyn Chookagian by TKO early in round three at UFC 247.
With a background in Muay Thai and taekwondo, we can expect Shevchenko to counter with kickboxing strikes and, if she chooses, attempt to secure takedowns with judo throws. She will be aiming to add to her two KO/TKO and two submission victories in the octagon (three of which came in the second round) and has a three-inch reach advantage over Maia to utilize.
Jennifer Maia (18-6-1) is a former flyweight champion in the Invicta FC and Circuito Talent de MMA promotions. She joined the UFC as the Invicta champion and on a six-fight win streak.
Maia’s last fight was a Performance of the Night submission win via armbar with 31 seconds of the first round remaining against Joanne Calderwood in August, her only finish in the UFC and first since 2015. All of Maia’s other UFC bouts have gone to the judges and been called as unanimous decisions.
The Brazilian had missed weight in her two fights prior to her most recent win, once by three pounds, and cannot afford to make the same mistake if she is to have a chance to claim UFC gold. Maia’s background is in boxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and Muay Thai, so both fighters are skilled standing and on the ground – Maia may think she has a better chance against Shevchenko on the floor rather than striking though.
Shevchenko is a dominant champion and it would be a huge achievement for Maia to claim victory and the belt this weekend in what is her first five round UFC contest.
Prediction: Shevchenko by decision.
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