UFC 231: Will Joanna or Shevchenko Continue to Make History?

Joanna Jędrzejczyk has been the UFC’s most dominant champion, but Valentina Shevchenko has bested her in the past.  Only one can leave UFC 231 as the new flyweight champion.

The career’s of Joanna Jędrzejczyk and Valentina Shevchenko are parallel paths that have seemingly always been destined to intersect.  The two have a history in Muay Thai, with Shevchenko winning all three meetings.  However, it’s Poland’s Jędrzejczyk who has previously held UFC gold.  Will Shevchenko’s success against Jędrzejczyk continue?  Or will the fighter known simply as “Joanna” continue to make history by becoming the first female to win a UFC title in multiple weight classes?

Valentina Shevchenko has had to be painfully patient in 2018.  When she moved down to flyweight following a split-decision loss to Amanda Nunes for the bantamweight title, Shevchenko was seen as a shark entering a shallow pond.  She was immediately considered the biggest threat to champion Nicco Montaño, but the fight did not come together until this past September.  Misfortune would strike again as Montaño withdrew from the fight just days out, but the UFC appeared ready to make amends to Shevchenko by stripping Montaño and promising the Kyrgyzstani striker a shot at the now vacant by year’s end.

Shevchenko was briefly linked to a fight with Sijara Eubanks in November before those plans were scrapped in favor of a previously announced bout with familiar rival Jedrzejczyk.   “Bullet” has spent most of 2018 being considered the uncrowned champion of the flyweight division.  She has only three losses in her MMA career, two to Nunes and one in 2010 to Liz Carmouche prior to entering the UFC.  Many feel that Shevchenko has enjoyed great success considering she’s given up advantages in size and power her entire career.  To now be on an even playing field makes Shevchenko a more formidable adversary than ever before.

Joanna Jędrzejczyk jumps into this title opportunity without the familiar mystique she had throughout her title reign.  Back-to-back losses to Rose Namajunas for the title have now left her appearing more vulnerable as she moves up to flyweight.  Furthermore, it is against an opponent who has defeated her in Muay Thai, the discipline in which Jędrzejczyk performs best.  As if that wasn’t enough, in moving up from strawweight she is now giving up the exceptional size and reach she’s had over opponents at 115 pounds.

For as many adversities as she has faced inside the cage, Jędrzejczyk is still the woman with the pedigree to make history on Saturday night.  Her five title defenses remain second only to Ronda Rousey in the UFC and Cris Cyborg overall in MMA.  With the exception of Namajunas, she has completed a virtual sweep of the strawweight division in besting every fighter ranked that was ranked in the top five during her title run.  Many felt the move to 125 was inevitable, and a victory over Shevchenko would cement her place as one of the best female fighters of all time.

The biggest difference for Jędrzejczyk at flyweight as opposed to strawweight is that maintaining the distance is more imperative.  She will attack with speed and footwork, stringing together combinations and getting out of range before her opponent can counter-attack.  However, at flyweight the power being thrown at her will be stronger and a firefight with Shevchenko is not one Jędrzejczyk is favored to win.  The Polish phenom figures to be the more technical fighter and getting in-and-out behind a jab and frustrating the normally patient Shevchenko figures to be her best route to victory.

By comparison, Shevchenko should look to attack with kicks to hurt the mobility of Jędrzejczyk.  The former champion is unlikely to look to take the fight to the ground so the absence of the threat of the takedown should open up Shevchenko’s offense.  While she does not figure to be faster than Jędrzejczyk, she can combine her kicks with cutting off the cage to get in range to land her own combinations and cruise to a victory.

The winner is expected to face the winner of Katlyn Chookagian and Jessica Eye’s bout earlier in the evening.  As the division is still developing, a fight with Liz Carmouche or Andrea Lee could be later in 2019.  Considering that strawweight champion Rose Namajunas is expected to face Jessica Andrade and bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes is has Ketlan Vieira or Holly Holm in her sights, a move back to their old divisions to fight for the title does not figure to be in the cards for either Shevchenko or Jędrzejczyk in 2019.