UFC 255: Can Maia Slay Goliath and Dethrone Shevchenko?

Valentina Shevchenko and Jennifer Maia, UFC 255 weigh-in
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - NOVEMBER 20: (L-R) Opponents Valentina Shevchenko of Kyrgyzstan and Jennifer Maia of Brazil face off during the UFC 255 weigh-in at UFC APEX on November 20, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Valentina Shevchenko is tearing through the competition en route to super fights, but she must still dispatch Jennifer Maia at UFC 255 in order to reach them.

What is left to be said about the most interesting woman in MMA?  Were it not for injuries and the pandemic, it is likely that Valentina Shevchenko might have competed three times in 2020 considering her preferred schedule.  This year, she will have to settle for being the only women’s UFC champion to record to two appearances in the calendar year.  Should she win, and dominate as she’s expected to, it would likely secure her first Female Fighter of the Year honors at a time in the modern era when athletes have had the most hardships in terms of training.

Coming up on two years as a UFC champion, “Bullet” continues to build momentum as if she’s been freshly fired from the gun.  Title defenses over Jessica Eye, Liz Carmouche, and Katlyn Chookagian have come in short order and she did not face serious adversity in any match.  Despite more contenders working their way up the ranks, the MMA world is already turning their attention towards bouts with other champions with a trilogy against Amanda Nunes or a defense against current strawweight queen Weilli Zhang.  This may be a case of counting chickens before they hatch, but it is difficult not to look ahead when it appears so few hurdles remain for both match-ups to be made.

Truth be told, a title shot should not have been on Jennifer Maia’s mind back in August as much as job security.  The former Invicta champion had gotten off to a 2-2 start in her UFC career and was not only coming off a loss but also back-to-back weight misses going into her prelim bout with Viviane Araujo.  Another loss would not have been ideal, but another loss compounded with missing weight again could have ended her UFC run then and there without controversy.  Two weeks out, a turn of events turned out to be a blessing in disguise as number one contender Joanne Calderwood stepped in for Araujo (who tested positive for COVID-19) and gave Maia an opportunity to leap into title contention.  She took full advantage of it, making weight and submitting Calderwood in the first round to complete the upset.

While Maia has only been in the UFC for two years, she has built up an extensive resume outside of the Octagon.  A professional since 2009, Maia started her career in her native Brazil where she fought virtually exclusively (outside of a single Cage Warriors appearance in Dubai) until she began fighting for Invicta in 2013.  She would fight for the promotion five times, winning the interim flyweight title.  Later promoted to undisputed champion, she would defend the belt twice.  She has notable victories over Roxanne Modafferi (twice), Vanessa Porto, former Bellator champion Zoila Frausto, and former UFC champion Jessica Andrade.

Maia fights with a more traditional Muay Thai style and should look to create more of a brawl against the technical Shevchenko.  The Brazilian must start every combination with punches and finish with kicks or vice-versa in order to confuse the champion and chop away at her gas-tank.  Shevchenko is one of the best at getting in-and-out with high volume and avoiding her opponent’s counters which means Maia should not fall into a pattern of looking to land single power shots in the fight.  Shevchenko should look to get in-and-out with her boxing and force the fight to the ground where Maia’s striking is nullified and she can test the challenger’s prowess from her back.

A win for Shevchenko looks to set up an early 2021 match-up with former strawweight champion Jessica Andrade who made her flyweight debut last month with a first round knockout of top contender Katlyn Chookagian.  A victory for Maia would likely go down as the Upset of the Year and an immediate rematch would undoubtedly be booked with the selling point of whether she can shock the world a second time.


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