Abu Dhabi, UAE — Lauren Murphy was supposed to be facing Cynthia Calvillo this weekend at UFC 254. Then came news that Calvillo was out of what had all the makings of a title eliminator.
A replacement was found — but tested positive for COVID-19. Finally, Gorilla Fighting flyweight champ Liliya Shakirova stepped up to face Murphy (13-4) this weekend.
The catch, well that’s simple. “It’s a huge risk,” observed Murphy, speaking to media outlets including Cageside Press at the UFC 254 media day in Abu Dhabi. “I’m at the top right now. This fight with Cynthia was a big fight, it going to was maybe mean a lot of things. To step in and fight somebody that’s brand new that we know nothing about, it’s a huge risk.”
As Murphy went on to point out, however, “it’s a risk I was willing to take to come out and have the Fight Island experience, and hopefully cement my place in the division.” In fact, not traveling to Abu Dhabi was something that never occurred to her. “I literally told Mick [Maynard] ‘just put me on the plane, I’ll fight whoever.’ It’s going to work out for sure.”
When it comes to her new opponent, there’s not a ton of footage on Shakirova, Murphy admitted. She believes the promotional newcomer is “a lifelong wrestler, which is honestly good. Okay great, she’s a grappler, I was preparing to fight a grappler.” The Uzbekistan national was also a champion outside of the UFC, which is a bonus for Murphy.
Asked if she felt landing on the UFC 254 main card felt like a stamp of approval from the UFC, Murphy said that “I’m super honored that the UFC put me on the main card. I love it. I feel like I’ve been grinding so hard.”
“It’s taken a while to get to where I’m at,” she continued. “I’m not one of those girls that walked into the promotion and was an instant superstar. I’m not one of those girls that was handed any easy match-ups, ever. I was thrown in the deep end from the very first fight that I had in the UFC at bantamweight. And I struggled a little bit,” admitted Murphy, who added that she had been an athlete all of four years when she joined the promotion.
That journey has taken her to a point where Murphy is knocking on the door of a title shot. She has three wins in a row at 125lbs, which is something of a magic number in the division ruled over by Valentina Shevchenko.
At the same time, other names are in the mix. Jennifer Maia has the next crack at gold, at UFC 255. Jessica Andrade arrived in the division this past weekend, immediately making her presence felt. Many observers immediately began calling for Andrade to be given a shot at the belt.
Murphy, for one, is not on that bandwagon. At least not in terms of the timing. “Maybe she does deserve the title shot, but she doesn’t deserve the next title shot,” she opined.
Instead, Murphy feels ready for her own chance at gold. Even before Maia, if it comes to it. She also recognizes that matchmaking is something out of her control.
“The UFC is going to do whatever they’re going to do. I don’t have any control over any of that,” acknowledged Murphy. “To be honest with you I don’t have any control over whether they want to give the title shot to whoever they want to give it to.” All she can control, added Murphy, is her performances, and beating whoever the UFC plants in front of her. “I have fought everybody the UFC has ever offered me. There’s nothing more I can possibly do, and I think if I just keep doing what I’m doing, eventually they’re going to become convinced. And hopefully the rest of the world will too.”
That said, Murphy is eager to serve as a back-up fighter for Shevchenko vs. Maia next month.
“Win or lose this weekend, I’m going to be on weight when that fight happens,” she vowed. “Because Jennifer Maia has missed weight twice in her last three. I’ve done it before for the UFC, when a title contender missed weight and I walked onto the card. I’ll be happy to do it again.”
UFC 254 takes place on “Fight Island” (Yas Island) in Abu Dhabi at the Flash Forum on Saturday, October 24. The main card airs live on PPV following televised and online prelims.