UFC 275: Shevchenko Eyes Greater Glory Beyond Young Upstart Santos

SINGAPORE, SINGAPORE - JUNE 08: face off during the UFC 275 media day at the Mandarin Oriental on June 8, 2022 in Singapore. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Valentina Shevchenko feels the time may be right for her to pursue the bantamweight title again, but Taila Santos is looking to remind of her of the task at hand at UFC 275.

Valentina Shevchenko sees the open window now, and arguably she always had the power to open it herself.  The reigning flyweight champion has run roughshod over the division since claiming gold in 2018, and is currently neck-and-neck with arguably the best fighter in the world today in Kamaru Usman with six consecutive UFC title defenses.  She has the power to take the lead on Saturday, adding a young contender to a resume that already lists Holly Holm, Julianna Peña, Katlyn Chookagian, Jessica Andrade, and others.

She should not look past this Saturday.  She should not look past the Alexa Grassos or Manon Fiorots making their way up the rankings.  But “Bullet” sees that the time is right to turn her crosshairs on a different target: the bantamweight championship.  While talk of a rematch with Amanda Nunes has been discussed since their last meeting in 2017, it seems as if Shevchenko feels things have finally aligned for the time to be right.  She has proven all she needs to at flyweight to ensure her place in UFC history.  With Nunes perhaps more vulnerable than in years prior with a recent loss or an opportunity to best Peña again, becoming only the second female two-division champion in UFC history feels like the right goal to pursue next.

History has a way of shattering the best-laid plans.  There are plenty of perfectly timed shots throughout history that were seemingly thrown by divine intervention to shatter those matchups and scenarios that fans had already penciled in.  Taila Santos will enter Saturday with the proverbial hammer in her hands, and she carries the perfect balance of youthful hopefulness and battle-tested experience going into the bout as she enters with an impressive 19-1 record.

After going a perfect 16-0 to begin her career, Santos returned from a two-year layoff to earn a UFC contract through Dana White’s Contender Series: Brazil in 2018.  She would drop a split decision in her promotional debut to Mara Romero Borella, but has since reeled off consecutive victories over Molly McCann, Gillian Robertson, Roxanne Modafferi, and Joanne Wood to become one of the division’s must-watch prospects.  But while a contender would usually need to add more to their record before challenging for the title, life at flyweight in the Shevchenko era means that the search for new challengers can expedite one’s title aspirations.  As such, the currently fourth-ranked Santos is the latest to leap into a title bout with a chance to shock the world by taking down arguably the most talented female fighter in the world today.

The key to a Santos victory will be to attack with leg kicks and make Shevchenko a less mobile target.  While the champion is known for her multifaceted game, Santos should look to hamper her movement as early as possible to begin neutralizing the threats coming back at her.  It is expected that Santos will have a power advantage, but she should spend the early rounds being careful with her shot selection as she looks to close the distance.  Shevchenko is expected to go to her signature strategy of getting in-and-out with high volume and could look to force Santos to work off her back.  “Bullet” is also an adept grappler and it is a possibility that take the most efficient route to victory getting the fight to the ground.

An upset for Santos would more than likely set up an immediate rematch considering the established dominance of Shevchenko.  A Shevchenko victory would likely see her wait to see who wins in the bantamweight title rematch between Peña and Nunes this July.  While either woman would create an intriguing fight for Shevchenko, their timetable could dictate whether or not she waits to possibly move up in weight, or if she decides to face another flyweight in order to stay active.


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