Valentina Shevchenko has been unstoppable at 125 pounds, a trend that she expects to continue for a long time.
The reigning UFC flyweight champion recorded her fourth consecutive defense of her title with a convincing unanimous decision win over Jennifer Maia in the co-main event of UFC 255 at UFC APEX in Las Vegas on Saturday. Despite the rare sight of Shevchenko losing a round, she recovered from a poor second period to dominate the remainder of the fight and improve her overall record to 20-3 (all three of Shevchenko’s career losses have come at bantamweight).
At the evening’s post-fight press conference, Shevchenko spoke about how she’s still working on clearing out her division and how her seemingly easy victories have done nothing to lessen her motivation.
“This is what I’m doing.” Shevchenko said. “It’s what I want because finally I’m in flyweight, my natural weight class, where I feel the most power, the technique, the speed, everything. Definitely I want to compete here for a long time to defend my belt against anyone who’s gonna be in front of me. I heard some people there saying, ‘Dominant champ,’ something like that, ‘you are losing motivation, there is no motivation because you feel it’s easy passing everyone,’ but it’s not like that. Because the way that I did to become UFC champion, it’s not one people can imagine that they’re gonna do. For example, people who are born in the United States, they can have seven or eight fights and already fight for the UFC. Me, I was born in Kyrgyzstan, martial arts I start to do at five years old.
“Five years ago, I joined the UFC finally, right? It took 22 years from my start, moving around the world, traveling, fighting, winning world championships, moving closer, closer, closer, 22 years with a record of 17 world championships just to join the UFC. After 27 years, I became world champion of the UFC. So there is no way I am going to lose my motivation to still be the dominant champion and continue my success in martial arts because I know how hard it was.”
One might wonder if some of Shevchenko’s opponents are already competing at a deficit before they even step into the cage with “Bullet,” given how indomitable she’s proven to be. Before losing a round to Maia, Shevchenko hadn’t been on the wrong end of a 10-9 since she fought Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 231 two years ago.
“I don’t think that it happens here,” Shevchenko said. “UFC, it’s a top league. There are no amateurs who have this mentality. Only the best in the whole world fight in here and the best have different mental settings in their head. They don’t have this fear because a fight is a fight.
“Of course, you’re going to face some very strong opponents, but they’re gonna go there to lose? I don’t think so because here only the best ones fight in the UFC.”
Shevchenko wants to compete at least three times in 2021 and she’s looking forward to potential fights with top contenders Jessica Andrade and Lauren Murphy. Should she continue to successfully defend her title, superfights with two-division champion Amanda Nunes (who has twice defeated Shevchenko by decision) and strawweight champion Zhang Weili loom as oft-discussed possibilities.
However the next few years go for Shevchenko, she’s not setting a retirement date for herself because she wants to make sure that when she’s done fighting it’s because she truly has no reason to step back into the cage.
“I don’t have a date,” Shevchenko said. “I think it’s very early, 35, 36. Because I believe that a person who still have it, like desire, technique, power, strength, you have to use it until the end. Because if you decide, ‘Okay, I’m going to stop it now.’ And probably after a few years you are thinking, ‘Why wouldn’t I try to do it again and come back from my retirement?’ But there is another factor that you are not the same person, you are older. You lost your skills because you didn’t do enough training and you didn’t maintain your spirit of the fighter and the time is already gone.
“Then you look back and, ‘Oh, it’s so frustrating. Why I took that decision?’ That’s why I’m a person who believes you have to use your potential right now, right today, before you’re gonna feel, ‘Okay, this is time to do something else.’”
Shevchenko laughed at the possibility of overstaying her welcome, explaining that she doesn’t expect to see the kind of decline that has plagued so many fighters in their twilight years.
“I tell you what, my skills never get lower,” Shevchenko said. “It’s not gonna be lower, lower, and lower. It’s gonna be higher, higher, and higher. … Until [I’m in my] 50s.”