Nunes vs Shevchenko 3 needs to happen
Although the first known women’s MMA fight in America happened in 1997, it’s been less than a decade since the UFC signed its first set of women to the roster. Pioneers like Chris Cyborg, Gina Carano, Megumi Fuji, and Ronda Rousey made a name for themselves outside of the UFC, but it wasn’t until UFC 157 when Women’s MMA started its meteoric rise with Rousey defeating Liz Carmouche to become the first woman’s champion in UFC history.
MMA itself is already a young sport and with the women not getting big opportunities until 2012, we are still in the first generation of elite female talent. A lot of people will say the delay in female MMA’s popularity has caused them to be behind in skill and technique and the level of talent the women have is nowhere near the talent of the men’s divisions. This is true to a point, but fighters like Valentina Shevchenko and Amanda Nunes are proving that their skill transcends gender and are putting themselves into the conversation of the greatest to ever step inside the octagon.
Today both women are two of the most dominant champions the sport has ever seen. Nunes rose to stardom in 2016 when she submitted Misha Tate for the bantamweight title at UFC 200 and then just 6 months later dismantled Ronda Rousey in 48 seconds at UFC 207. In 6 months Nunes went from being the underdog in her first title fight to being undeniably the best 135er in the world. And to top it off in the next three years she would defeat the likes of Valentina Shevchenko, Holly Holm, and Chris Cyborg, the only three women that could come close to touching Rousey’s long-held GOAT status.
Shevchenko on the other hand had a much different rise to the top. She began training in taekwondo at the age of 5 under her mother and older sister, and by the time she was 12 years old, she was knocking 22-year-old women out cold. From 2003-2015 she won over 50 amateur and pro kickboxing, Muay Thai, K-1, and MMA fights along with eight gold medals in the IFMA world championships. By the time she dedicated herself to MMA and made her way into the UFC, she was already one of the most feared strikers in the UFC without ever stepping inside the octagon. She fought for her first title just two years into her UFC career and lost a split decision to none other than Amanda Nunes. Then with the creation of the 125 division, Shevchenko dropped down to her natural weight class and defeated longtime kickboxing rival and former UFC champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk to become the 2nd flyweight champion. Since winning the title she has easily outclassed every challenger put in front of her and with no end in sight, for either’s dominance, there is only one fight for the UFC to make to finally decide who really is the greatest of all time.
What makes a third fight so interesting is how close the first two were. When the two had their first fight back in 2016, Nunes was just beginning her rise to championship status while Shevchenko was only in her second UFC fight. With both women highly respecting the other skills, the first round was more of a feel out but a takedown, and some top control late in the first sealed the round for Nunes.
As the fight went on Shevchenko was having a tough time covering distance against the bigger opponent. Shevchenko generally likes to work on the counter but Nunes was really smart with her advances, using lots of feints before coming forward with a quick single strike or short combo to not allow Shevchenko the time to find her range and counter. Nunes again ended up on top in the second round and spent the majority of it picking her apart with ground and pound while stuffing her attempts to sweep or get back to her feet.
The third round kicked off with Shevchenko stuffing a takedown and reversing an outside trip to land on top in side control. She was able to keep top position and land some ground strikes, but with 2 rounds going to Nunes, she desperately needed a finish to win the fight. Nunes was starting to fade and Shevchenko turned up the pressure in the third, but the last two minutes were a stalemate and Nunes took home a unanimous decision victory. This wasn’t the closest fight, but Shevchenko’s performance was impressive, nonetheless. Nobody had been able to give Nunes a tough fight in years let alone someone in their second fight with the company and even with a loss a star was born in Shevchenko while Nunes was on her way to winning the title.
The second bout between the two is when things get interesting and is the reason most fans believe the third fight is the only fight to make. After the loss to Nunes, Shevchenko went on to dominate the likes of Holly Holm and Julianna Pena while Nunes beat Meisha Tate for the bantamweight title and solidified herself as the GOAT with her destruction of Ronda Rousey. Everyone knew it was time for Shevchenko to get her rematch and a few months later the two were scheduled for the main event of UFC 215.
The first fight was closer than many expected but Nunes still clearly won. The 2nd fight on the other hand is one of the closest title fights you will ever see and some still think Shevchenko was robbed of being dubbed the queen of bantamweight. Just like the 1st fight, the 1stnd round was more of a feel out as the two traded leg kicks and tried to establish their range.
The second round is when the action started to pick up. Nunes was still coming in brilliantly with quick strikes and using her long-range to keep Shevchenko at bay and not allow her to land counters. But Shevchenko is a master of distance management and slowly started to pick up on ways to negate her range. The combo of choice for Shevchenko was this lightning-quick superman punch into a lead hook and finishing it off with a low kick. Trying to rely on her old clinch skills from her Muay Thai days, Shevchenko was also trying to wait for Nunes to overextend and duck under into double underhooks but Nunes was just too strong and routinely broke the grip.
What was so surprising about this fight was Nunes’s hesitancy. We now know Nunes as an ultra-aggressive power puncher who thrives in a chaotic fight but this time, she was intelligently picking her shots and fighting much different than she had before or after this fight. You can tell Nunes respected Shevchenko and came up with a game plan around Shevchenko’s key skills instead of forcing her aggressive style on opponents like she always had.
In the third round, Shevchenko started to have more success on the counter as Nunes was coming in with predictable and easy to see coming overhand rights. But she was still smart enough to not get too overzealous and throw away the fight by playing into Shevchenko’s counter heavy style. While Nunes was fighting much differently than before based on Shevchenko’s skills, Shevchenko was forced to do the same. Instead of sitting back on the counter and refusing to be the leading woman like she did against Holly Holm, Shevchenko was forced to be more aggressive as Nunes was too smart with her advances to leave her time to counter. The best thing you can do in a fight is take away your opponents’ advantages and force them to fight a fight they are not comfortable with and both women were able to do that to the other.
By the time we reached the 5th round, the winner was completely up in the air and both women knew it. Trying to seal the victory, Nunes shot for a single leg and pushed Shevchenko against the cage, and kept her defensive in the clinch for a good portion of the round. But Shevchenko had outstruck her in the last two rounds and most of the 5th and Nunes needed something bigger to win the round. Then as Shevchenko came forward with her patented superwoman punch, Nunes ducked under and shucked her to the ground and kept top position for the last 2 minutes of an awfully close fight. Shevchenko fought her hardest to get up but Nunes was just too big and strong and ended the fight on top on full guard landing some light ground and pound.
Nunes was awarded a split decision victory and the two fighters went their separate ways again. Shevchenko dropped down to the newly created 125 division and won the vacant title against Joanna Jedrzejczyk while Nunes went on to defend her title against the likes of Cris Cyborg, Holly Holm, and Germaine de Randamie. And now, three years after the rematch both women find themselves in similar positions. They have cleared out their respective divisions and with no clear rising contenders and Nunes expressing her desire to retire soon, now is finally the time for the grudge match. With both women on the cusp of GOAT status, a win over the other would solidify that title. Not only is the third fight the super-fight everyone wants to see, but it’s also a necessary one to finally answer the question of who is the true GOAT of woman’s MMA?