Shevchenko must convince the naysayers after UFC Uruguay title defence

By Alistair Hendrie

As Liz Carmouche swatted away at Valentina Shevchenko in round two of Saturday’s UFC flyweight title bout, her strikes landing in a different postcode to their target, the Uruguayan crowd began to boo for the first time. By the end of the frame both women had landed only 31 strikes between them, and eventually Shevchenko strolled across the finish line to easily keep her belt by three verdicts of 50-45. Bellator fighter Gerald Harris dissed Valentina’s title defence, posting a GIF from Monsters, Inc of Boo lulling away to sleep. Brian Kelleher, the UFC bantamweight, was also bored, and commented: “Must be nice to make title fight money and not even have to deal with a threat, just coast 5 rounds to safe victory and get paid.”

Sure, Shevchenko didn’t exert herself and Carmouche never managed to dent her armoury, but we should bear in mind this wasn’t the first UFC title fight to end up as dull as dishwater. At UFC 33 Tito Ortiz defended his light-heavyweight crown without a care in the world as he racked up two scores of 50-44 and one of 50-43 over Vladimir Matyushenko, during which time the challenger wrapped his limbs tightly around “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy,” evidently desperate to see out the last two rounds in as defensive a position as possible.

Critics of Shevchenko should also remember that even Anderson Silva, the longest-reigning UFC middleweight champion of all-time, had viewers yawning, groaning, booing and jeering at his wretched decision over Demian Maia at UFC 112. The Brazilian legend picked apart his compatriot over the first two rounds but spent the rest of the night ambling in circles, staying out of range and mocking Maia with his hands on his hips. “It’s like he’s got tired of beating him up,” commented Joe Rogan. The Abu Dhabi crowd got their own back by chanting “GSP! GSP! GSP!” as Bruce Buffer announced Silva’s win.

Unlike Silva, while Shevchenko didn’t make a mockery of the values a champion should inhibit, the criticism coming her way is no surprise. It’s an understatement to say she eased off in the championship rounds. Although she ended the bout in top position, she didn’t land a single significant strike on the ground despite spending more than seven minutes overall controlling her adversary on the mat. What’s more, in the final ten minutes, she landed just twelve significant blows.

Trouble is, Shevchenko was simply too skilled for Carmouche, and her dominance was a mark of how much the other 125lbs women are playing catch-up against this deadly striker who covers distance with the velocity of a cheetah prowling the jungle. When she did pull the trigger she fired a kaleidoscopic array of strikes, Carmouche never knowing what to expect next.

One of Shevchenko’s brightest moments was a one-two, thrown in mid-air in the form of a superwoman punch, bookended by a roundhouse low kick. She generated plenty of torque when digging to the body, while she also scored a beautiful trip into half guard.

Those raids were all well and good but if you were to piece together a YouTube compilation of her most damaging attacks, it would only last around thirty seconds. She didn’t provide fireworks, and Carmouche couldn’t bring out the best in the favourite.

It seems that whenever we might consider Shevchenko one of the most dominant athletes in the sport, which she is, it always comes with a counter-argument: she’s not exciting enough; she doesn’t take risks; she doesn’t finish enough fights. She gave a sneak-peak of her fight-ending weapons when she head kicked Jessica Eye into next week at UFC 238, but Shevchenko is stuck in an awkward position where her opponents rarely want to engage for fear of giving up their chances.

Credit to her, after defending her gold Shevchenko called out the featherweight queen Amanda Nunes, who defeated “Bullet” at 135lbs, but keep in mind their first match was another damp squib and Nunes has just shellacked Cris Cyborg, who walks around at about 30lbs heavier than Shevchenko. With that said, Shevchenko has work to do to build her star power to match her in-cage gifts.

 

Check out more of Alistair Hendrie’s work with his Kindle book, Fight Game: The Untold Story of Women’s MMA in Britain, which features insight from Rosi Sexton, Joanne Calderwood and many more.