Saturday’s UFC on Fox 20 event, hosted at the United Center in Chicago, was a showcase of striking as bantamweight Valentina Shevchenko outpointed Holly Holm on the back foot, and Brazilian lightweight Edson Barboza outscored Gilbert Melendez with scything leg kicks.
Elsewhere French heavyweight Francis Ngannou knocked out Bojan Mihajlovic inside four minutes, while strawweight Felice Herrig, returning from a 15-month hiatus, scored a rear naked choke over Kailin Curran in round one.
So with another weekend of UFC competition done and dusted, let’s take a look at five questions we may have answers to soon.
Is Shevchenko one of the UFC’s finest counter-strikers?
Of course, most of us knew the main event would be a battle of wits on the feet, but we didn’t realise it would be Holm forcing the pace. But as the former champion came forward, Shevchenko sprang into action with counter hooks and wheel kicks. Her timing was on point all night and although she threw fewer strikes – 217 to 231 – she scored with 55% accuracy to Holm’s 31%. Her two takedowns in round three only added more value to her victory.
Will Shevchenko earn a shot at revenge against champion Amanda Nunes?
Indeed, at number seven in the rankings, Shevchenko’s decision over Holm, ranked two, will do her no harm at all. The Russian-Ukrainian dropped a unanimous judges’ call to Nunes in 2015 and could be primed for a rematch. Shevchenko will need to avoid Nunes’ ground game if she does get a title shot, although the 28-year-old could also face Cat Zingano or Sara McMann next.
How far can Edson Barboza go?
With variety, a strong chin and – in case you hadn’t noticed – some of the sport’s most devastating leg kicks, Barboza has all the ingredients to challenge lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez. Note how Barboza was also rocked by Melendez but unlike his December 2015 defeat to Tony Ferguson, he refused to be drawn into a gun fight. Nate Diaz and Donald Cerrone scaling up to 170lbs will help Barboza’s case for a crack at the belt, but Khabib Nurmagomedov may get there first.
Does Octagon rust exist?
Winners at UFC on Fox 20 would insist not. 155lbs contender Alex Oliveira was inactive for 518 days before his prelims decision over James Moontasri, while Herrig was away for 462 days before forcing Curran to quit. Then there’s bantamweight Eddie Wineland who scored a TKO over Frankie Saenz in round two, shrugging off a 364-day lay-off. So Octagon rust is all in the mind, it appears. After all, one of the best in the game, bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz, has made a career of fighting irregularly. In September 2014 he returned from 1,092 days away from the Octagon to pummel Takeya Mizugaki inside a round.
Was Mihajlovic stopped too early?
Ngannou needed only nine strikes to cut off the ring and punish Mihajlovic. The Paris-native, 29, looks like a promising talent and with an 83-inch reach, he backs up power with genuine athleticism. However, as he crouched over his foe looking to finish, after scoring two hammer fists bang on the chin, his finishing punches strayed around Mihajlovic’s arms and referee Herb Dean could be criticised for stepping in. Exhaustive replays painted a picture of a soft stoppage but Dean, indeed, is one of the most reliable referees in the sport and had to make a split second decision. Mihajlovic was hurt nonetheless.