The UFC’s Next Women’s Flyweight Champion?
By Ross Markey
When it comes to dominant championship reigns in the present-day UFC – we’ve got a couple standouts. Khabib Nurmagomedov is fast approaching that status at lightweight, and a potential victory over Tony Ferguson in the future goes a long way to help that claim.
At 135-pounds, we’ve got Amanda Nunes, who’s pushed back each and every incoming challenge to her throne to date. Within touching distance of such a moniker as Khabib or Nunes – is Valentina Shevchenko. In five outings at flyweight, ‘Bullet’ has been untouched more or less – wrecking havoc along the way.
The reigning gold-holder has a meeting with Joanne Calderwood next on her schedule it seems, but I still don’t see another competitor taking the throne for the time being. The 32-year-old is as precise a Muay Thai practitioner you’re likely to find in the promotion at the moment, so a standup based challenger has little hope in matching up against someone as sharp as Shevchenko.
Shevchenko has only been bested three times in her professional career, twice in close showings against Amanda Nunes, and once against Liz Carmouche – a defeat she would avenge in August of last year. I believe a supreme grappler may hold the key to dislodging the seemingly unstoppable Shevchenko, as well as a particularly aggressive force, who currently plys her trade at 115-pounds.
Brazilian contender, Viviane ‘Vivi’ Araújo has only spent a year under the UFC banner, featuring in the Octagon on three occasions. One thing is clear, however, the former bantamweight challenger is one of the biggest threats to the division’s upper-echelon at the moment. Araújo has competed at 115-pounds, 125-pounds, and 135-pounds over the course of the previous two years, but flyweight seems to be her solidified home.
With a record of 2-1 in the promotion, the former Pancrase strawweight champion dropped her sole loss to one-time title challenger, Jessica Eye in her most recent outing. Eye had tipped the scales at 131-pounds for the resulting catchweight pairing, eventually going on to outland her Brazilian counterpart with strikes.
What was evident in that clash, however, was Araújo’s grappling prowess. Landing two successful takedowns from seven shots, allowed the 33-year-old to stifle some output, despite the close loss. It’s not just wrestling Araújo can look to in a contest – it’s her Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt under the renowned Leozinho. The Ceilândia native has managed to secure four of her eight career wins via submission.
The armbar specialist was expected to feature against former Invicta FC flyweight titleholder, Jennifer Maia at UFC Fight Night Austin in June, but the event has since been cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Let’s rebook that pairing, and if Araújo emerges victorious, a matchup for flyweight gold is a realistic possibility
This one may come as somewhat of a surprise. Former UFC strawweight champion, Jéssica ‘Bate Estaca’ Andrade doesn’t even compete at 125-pounds, but similarly to compatriot, Araújo, has featured prominently at 135-pounds in the past. My reasoning for selecting Andrade as a possible title contender was her plan to meet with Shevchenko in a ‘superfight’ during her brief reign as strawweight champion – as well as her almost unmatched aggressive output.
Playing Shevchenko’s tactical Muay Thai game is yet to garner much success; that’s where Andrade emerges. Andrade is undeniably in the cold in regards to her route to a possible third strawweight title tilt. The Brazilian finds herself behind both Joanna Jędrzejczyk, and Weili Zhang – with both successfully beating Andrade without too much concern.
In terms of styles, Andrade has, like Araújo, a tricky grappling game to adapt to, and a bullish approach with her standup which has seen her put away some stiff competition in the past. Andrade has already finished the next expected flyweight title challenger, Joanne Calderwood via a guillotine – the seventh submission of her storied run. Andrade’s power is equally as frightening, evident in her one-punch knockout of former title challenger, Karolina Kowalkiewicz, and a barrage which stopped another title challenger, Jessica Penne.
If Andrade does get pitted with Shevchenko in this wildcard choice, she must stray wide of a kickboxing affair with the Kyrgyzstan native.