The main event of UFC on Fox 23 features two of the most ferocious women in the bantamweight division as Valentina Shevchenko squares off against Julianna Pena. Both women have built up quite the resume with Shevchenko having defeated former bantam weight champion Holly Holm and Pena out dueling Cat Zingano. These two women are both extremely talented with their own specific roads to victory. Who gets the job done at UFC Denver?
For many who tuned into her bout against Holly Holm, it became evident that Valentina Shevchenko operates on a level far beyond that of the average striker in the women’s bantamweight division. Her combinations were slick, her movement balanced, and the spinning attacks she threw gave a level of unpredictability that froze Holm at times. Shevchenko has been criticized by Pena for being more of a point fighter which is an unfair assessment. The reality of the situation is that Shevchenko is a controlled striker who looks for opportunities rather than wading into the fire, which just happens to be Pena’s preferred style.
Where Shevchenko is controlled and nuanced in her approach, playing the outside and countering effectively, Julianna Pena is a ball of fire who looks to explode forward with shots, get into the clinch, then do her best work by getting the fight to the ground. The biggest problem with her approach is that she usually enters the fray with little head movement leaving her susceptible to punishment when she makes her way in. While it may be an exciting style, it’s not very conduscive when facing off with a striker at the level of Shevchenko.
Shevchenko is a patient striker who will pivot on the outside, play matador, and chew up her opponents with a variety of attacks from all heights. The problem is that in the early rounds she can be a bit passive. Pena’s striking is alarming, but would be most effective if used at the initial bell in hopes of catching Shevchenko off balance. Something tells me that’s unlikely to happen.
Where Pena will likely have the advantage is in the grappling exchanges. She’s strong and pushes a ferocious pace once she gets the fight to the ground. She looks to punish her opponents with heavy leather and vicious elbows. The problem about all that is, she actually needs to get Shevchenko down to the ground for all that to happen. In order to do that, Pena will most likely choose to enter the clinch and try for a trip takedown which is her preferred method of getting her opponents grounded. There in lies another issue for the “Venezuelan Vixen.” Valentina Shevchenko is a judo black belt and is proficient with performing and avoiding trip takedowns.
Shevchenko was able to ground the champion Amanda Nunes in their match with a well timed counter Osoto Gari outside reap. The trip utilized in that match showcased Shevchenko’s ability to not only defend against trips, but counter effectively to end up on top. If Pena is hoping to get Shevchenko to ground then she’ll have to be aware of that fact and utilize a combination of takedowns in order to get the job done. Pure aggression alone will do her no good in this match up. Pulling guard could be an option, but Shevchenko has proven to have a strong top game of her own so the proposition is a bit of a gamble.
No matter how you slice it, this match is competitive as hell and the winner will likely be the one with the better game plan. When both fighters have heart for days, technical ability will always be the deciding factor.
Who do you think wins the main event at UFC Denver?
Jonathan Salmon is a writer, martial arts instructor, and geek culture enthusiast. Check out his Twitter and Facebook to keep up with his antics.
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