UFC 231: Shevchenko vs Jedrzejczyk Prediction
By Claudia Peterson
UFC 231 brings us one of the most anticipated female flyweight bout in the history of women’s MMA. Former bantamweight title challenger Valentina Shevchenko and former strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk will fight for the vacant women’s flyweight title this coming Saturday.
Both women met previously in the Muay Thai world, fighting at 125 pounds, with Valentina handing Joanna her only three loses in that sport. In every one of those meetings, Valentina utilized superior striking and takedowns. Both women transitioned to MMA and are unsurprisingly two of the best regarded female fighters.
Let’s take a look at these fighters’ impressive runs so far. If there is a perfect female MMA fighter, it would be Valentina Shevchenko. With perhaps the highest fighting IQ in all of the UFC female rosters combined, Valentina has excellent defensive striking, defensive ground game, and perfect timing.
Although a slow starter probably due to her Muay Thai roots, she can quickly become aggressive once she figures out her opponent’s timing, and is able to stay at a safe distance. If she is to be overwhelmed, it would need to be by a high striking volume from her opponent, which is something Joanna can do.
Unlike Joanna’s impressive championship run, Valentina has yet to win gold, losing to bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes by split decision for the bantamweight strap back in September of 2017. Her failed championship bid aside, she holds impressive wins over former and current champions Holly Holm and Sarah Kaufman. The bullet is such a great fighter, that she was able to outbox the boxer in Holm and submit the grappler in Julianna Pena. Even in her two fights against Amanda Nunes, Valentina proved to be superior in cardio and technique, and did not give the Lioness an opportunity to knock her out. That is saying a lot for the undersized Shevchenko. More recently, Valentina handed Priscilla Cachoeira a dominant and gritty beatdown, and put the newly arrived Brazilian on the shelf for the remainder of 2018.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk has had a decorated career shortly since arriving to the UFC back in 2014. She entered the promotion as un undefeated fighter, debuting at strawweight. She beat Juliana Lima via unanimous decision, and then beat Claudia Gadelha by controversial split decision, a fight that served as a title eliminator.
She then went on to beat newly crowned strawweight champion Carla Esparza via a dominant second round TKO, and took hold of the strawweight strap that would remain with her for the next two years. In that time, no one in the division could get passed her. Along the way, she beat Jessica Penne, Valerie Letourneau, Claudia Gadelha for a second time, Karolina Kowalkiewicz and Jessica Andrade. She remained undefeated until her fifth title defence, when she fell to current strawweight champion Rose Namajunas at UFC 217 in November of 2017. Since then, she lost a unanimous decision in her rematch to Thug Rose, but has a win over Tecia Torres from her last outing at UFC on FOX 30 back in July of 2018.
During her dominant reign, Joanna has taken advantage of her size and power to bully her opponents on the feet and utilized her excellent ground defense to get herself back to safety. Her game plan has always been the same, with not much new, and this cost her dearly in her title defense against Rose and again in their rematch. In their first encounter, Rose dropped Joanna with a right, and later dropped her with a left before finishing the fight.
Not only did the former champion not adjust the opening on her stand up game in the first fight, but Joanna did not come into their rematch with a fully adjusted game plan, and as opposed to Namajunas who had a game plan, Joanna simply came in to fight.
Weight issues aside, we did not see much improvements in Joanna’s game. We saw something similar in the fight with Tecia Torres. We saw a much bigger Joanna stuff nearly every takedown, and outstrike the much smaller Torres on the feet. This was a much needed win for the former champion, but not an impressive one that would call for another title shot anytime soon.
Both women are relatively the same size, Valentina standing at 5’ 5” and Joanna at 5’6.” Valentina was strong at bantamweight, but is even faster at flyweight, as we saw in the Cachoeira fight. Joanna, while always stronger than most other straweights, will most likely be slower than Valentina at flyweight, but may impress many of us with her power in Saturday’s fights.
Yet, there are many who see Joanna as some kind of smaller fighter moving up a weight class to challenge for something unthinkable, but that is not the case. Fighting at flyweight will not be something new for Joanna. Not only is she a natural flyweight, but she fought at 125 lbs in Muay Thai and in MMA up until 2014, when she debuted in the UCF and thus moved down to strawweight due to the absence of a flyweight division at that time.
As for Valentina, she only moved down to flyweight back in february 2018 soon after the division was created. And although Valentina herself is a natural flyweight as well, she does not have a run in that division, and her lone fight at 125 was a rather poorly matched one. This is also not a superfight in any sense of the word, but rather the best fight for perhaps the best two flyweights the UFC has on roster, even if these women proved their best in separate weight classes.
What does this matchup look like then? On paper, Valentina has more than one ways to win. She can win on the feet, and can win on the ground if there is a need do so, and if she proves to be strong enough to keep the former #1 pound for pound female fighter in the world on her back. Yet, many are predicting that this will be an easy win for Valentina Shevchenko due to the fact that she holds three wins over Joanna in kickboxing, fights that took place a little more than ten years ago.
However, beating Joanna will not be that simple, as the former champion has proved dominance in MMA and will most likely be able to stand with Valentina. That being said, Joanna may have trouble closing the distance and staying away from Valentina’s defensive striking, and the former champion may not be able to apply her tactic of backing up an opponent against the cage and overwhelm them with strikes. It will be interesting to see what game plan Joanna will come into this fight with.
Will this fight be an opportunity for Joanna to avenge those three losses in Muay Thai, or will Valentina continue to prove to the world that she is the best female MMA fighter?
Prediction: Shevchenko by decision