It’s hard to say that Valentina Shevchenko’s style has really shifted toward caution since becoming UFC champion. Even when victorious at bantamweight, her bouts weren’t especially notable for their high pace or violent action. However, it’s also clear to most longtime MMA fans that, as champions start to become entrenched in their divisions, they often take a more cautious approach to fighting.
Past belt-holders like Jose Aldo, Georges St-Pierre, Benson Henderson, and even Jon Jones all became notably more cautious champs than the thrilling styles that defined their rises up their respective divisions. Being champion means having something to protect. Even in today’s UFC – where belts can feel like they’re awarded and discarded at random – a title is one of the biggest pieces of leverage a fighter will ever get.
Following a somewhat workmanlike victory over Liz Carmouche at UFC Montevideo, that’s something that flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko would like fans to keep in mind. She’s heard the criticisms surrounding her latest win, but for her, there’s too much at stake to fight without caution and respect for her opponents (transcript via MMA Fighting).
“It’s affecting, but at the same time, you cannot listen too much,” Shevchenko said when asked about people criticizing her win. “Because fighting opponent, for example like Liz, if you just go with a lot of emotion, she will catch you and put you down. You cannot do it. You have to be very smart fighter.
“Of course it’s affecting, but at the same time, what’s going to be better? Make fans feel good and lose your belt? Is it better?”
In part, Shevchenko said the memory of her recent KO over Jessica Eye is likely driving expectations for her to deliver that kind of action every time out. But, she also called for fans to pay more attention to the less flashy, more detailed techniques on display.
“I think if all fans, people will start to watch more carefully the fight, they will see very beautiful technique and timing and speed. And this is all about martial arts. Not only about crazy exchanges. You can be hit, or you can lose much more, because as I said, you have the belt or you don’t.”
No telling who might be the next challenger for Shevchenko’s flyweight title. Katlyn Chookagian is the top-ranked contender after Eye—who lost her shot just back in June. However, it also seemed as though the UFC may have passed Chookagian over for this Montevideo title fight, due to her less-than-thrilling win over Joanne Calderwood on the UFC 238 prelims. It may take quite some time for a new fighter to clearly define themselves as a threat to Shevchenko’s reign.
Back when ‘Bullet’ first won the belt, she made it clear that she’d take on any and all comers. She’s already racked up two defenses this year. It’s on the UFC to figure out who’s next.