The battle for supremacy in the UFC’s women’s bantamweight title picture is closer than it’s ever been and two competitors could potentially etch their names in the history books following this Saturday night’s battle.
Valentina Shevchenko is coming off her biggest and most notable high profile win over Holly Holm last Summer in upset fashion, which appeared as a common theme in 2016. Like Holm, Shevchenko threw a wrench in the UFC’s plans to reboot Holly Holm’s momentum by offering her a relatively unknown name who was coming off a decision loss against current champion, Amanda Nunes at UFC 196, the same night Holm lost her world title. The loss derailed Holm’s chances of establishing herself as the new dominant female champion, which was what many expected following her tide turning knock out win over Ronda Rousey at UFC 193.
Now, Shevchenko is back at it, but instead of rematching the woman who handed her the second loss on her record and current champion, Amanda Nunes like she requested following her win over Holm, she will former TUF winner, Julianna Pena.
Pena, like Shevchenko is coming off an upset loss, which took place at UFC 200 against former title contender, Cat Zingano. Zingano’s long awaited return to the octagon was the beginning of her attempt to establish herself as the next one in line as the bantamweight title was being contested against two women she held wins over via TKO. With Rousey out of the title picture, “Alpha” Cat was one victory away from potentially challenging for the title once more and erasing the 14 second deficit she endured in her attempt to dethrone Rousey back in UFC 184. Unfortunately for Zingano, it had been a year and a half since she last stepped foot in the octagon and the division had evolved in her absence. Pena’s grappling and wild tendencies in her stand up had secured her the victory over the veteran.
In similar fashion, Shevchenko’s grappling superiority over Holm secured her the biggest win in her MMA career thus far, but her muay thai too deserved a ton of credit as the significant strikes total favored the Russian martial artist. The issue regarding both unexpected victories is that both wins weren’t characterized as being exciting. Sure, the two wins were upsets, but not in the same category as Michael Bisping’s victory over Luke Rockhold, or Eddie Alvarez’s win over Rafael dos Anjos. Sure, it is probably unfair to compare those title upsets over Shevchenko and Pena’s wins, but the lack of excitement moving forward in a newly competitive division is a bit disappointing to say the least.
Surely the bout this Saturday will be filled with high drama and high volume of action considering what is on the line for both competitors. The experienced muay thai combatant against the high level grappler who is in the midst of reaching her prime as a complete martial artist. What awaits the winner is no walk in the park, instead a vicious powerful brawler willing to put her foot on the gas in order to make quick work of whoever is placed in front of her. The women’s bantamweight picture is bound to get clearer only to fog up once more. The answer on who will rise to the occasion will be answered soon enough as the future of women’s MMA is finally here.