Valentina Shevchenko proved once again at UFC 255 that she has completely separated herself from the pack. The women’s flyweight division has been busy of late, and it requires sorting out.
By beating Jennifer Maia four of the five rounds, Shevchenko reminded everyone just how vast the disparity in talent is between her and the top contenders at 125lbs. Her dominance has us all wondering when her next real challenge will present itself. Who will ‘The Bullet’ fight next?
Well, there are a few ways in which her and the UFC matchmakers could play this. First, it’s important to note that Shevchenko does not intend to take a long layoff.
“I’m happy that now I can say I’m back, like 100%,” Shevchenko said at the post-fight presser, “and I don’t want to wait anymore like longtime layoff without fighting, so I’m ready to get back and have another title defense.”
Now, the question of course is, who? In my mind, there are two viable options. One within the division and one outside the division.
First, you have Jessica Andrade. The former women’s strawweight champ is five weeks removed from dismantling Katlyn Chookagian. Andrade would be a more compelling opponent for Shevchenko than Maia was. The reason for that is the true knockout power carried by Andrade. Her grappling could present issues also. The only thing going against Andrade is the fact she has lost two of her last three; the only win coming in her lone flyweight appearance.
Second, you have Weili Zhang. I’ll admit, this is the one I want to see next. Of course, Weili would have to venture up to flyweight; something she has yet to do in her MMA career. There’s no doubt that she could go up and have success at 125lbs though. Moreover, she would undeniably be Shevchenko’s toughest challenge since Amanda Nunes. The only problem, if you want to call it that, is the need for a Weili-Joanna rematch. Either way, we’re going to get a great fight.
Expect one of the two women mentioned above to be next in line to face ‘The Bullet’. Nunes has unfinished business with Megan Anderson. Additionally, Katlyn Chookagian and Lauren Murphy need another win in my eye’s. Perhaps you have Murphy and Andrade battle for top contender-ship, but it doesn’t seem like Shevchenko wants to wait around.
If Weili-Shevchenko gets booked, then Andrade will fight Murphy in all likelihood. Chookagian, another UFC 255 winner, should fight a UFC 255 loser, Jennifer Maia. That will give Maia a chance to get back in the title picture, while also giving Chookagian the opportunity to make a real case for another title shot.
I anticipate Cynthia Calvillo to take some time off to wait for things to play out. Jessica Eye vs Joanne Calderwood and Roxanne Modafferi vs Viviane Araujo are scheduled for the last two weeks of January. The winner of the Modafferi-Araujo fight will make a lot of sense.
I think we’ve covered just about everybody. Oh wait, there were two Shevchenko’s who won at UFC 255. Older sister, Antonina picked up a big finish over rising prospect Ariane Lipski. Really important win for ‘La Pantera’. The only name in the rankings to match her with is Alexis Davis. Why not?
So lets recap. I see the near future of the women’s flyweight division playing out like this:
- Valentina Shevchenko [c] vs Weili Zhang [c]
- Jessica Andrade (1) vs Lauren Murphy (3)
- Katlyn Chookagian (2) vs Jennifer Maia (5)
- Cynthia Calvillo (4) — Wait for winner of (8v9)
- Jessica Eye (6) vs Joanne Calderwood (7) — 1/23
- Roxanne Modafferi (8) vs Viviane Araujo (9) — 1/30
- Maycee Barber (10) vs Alexa Grasso (UR) — 2/13
- Andrea Lee (11) vs Gillian Robertson (12) — 12/12
- Alexis Davis (13) vs Antonina Shevchenko (14)
- Montana De La Rosa (15) vs Taila Santos (UR) — 12/5
Valentina Shevchenko’s biggest challenges lay outside the flyweight division. Meanwhile, Andrade-Murphy will determine the top contender within the division.
Sorting out the women’s flyweight division isn’t easy, but it’s been done.
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