With UFC women’s flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko openly expressing an interest in pursuing a second title against the winner of Julianna Pena vs. Amanda Nunes 2 later this year, UFC 275 had become more than just the opportunity to defend her title for a seventh consecutive occasion.
Instead, it was the gateway to greater things, with Taila Santos, a sizable underdog, looking to play spoiler.
Santos sat on the outside early as the UFC 275 co-main event got underway — but landed a counter after Shevchenko opened fire. Shevchenko was patient, picking her spots; Santos touched her with a leg kick that was checked.
The champ then fired a spinning back kick aimed at the midsection. That missed; Santos closed the distance for a takedown, but Shevchenko reversed. That left Santos with her back to the fence, and Shevchenko found room to land some knees. Shevchenko then fired some shoulder strikes, landing a couple, but a stumble let Santos get the back, and she locked on a body triangle immediately!
Santos went hunting for a neck crank or rear-naked choke, while the champ fought hands and fired punches back at Santos, doing a fair amount of damage given the angle. Shevchenko would survive the position and the round, and the position had come about off a stumble, but it was still a rare moment of apparent mortality displayed by the women’s flyweight champion.
Shevchenko fanned on a front kick to open round two, and missed on a spinning kick as well. Her combinations were another story; after landing a couple blows, they clinched up, and Santos took control, dropping for a takedown attempt. Shevchenko had a whizzer in place, defending, and Santos fired knees to the thigh. Santos then landed a trip, and found herself in Shevchenko’s guard!
Off her back, “Bullet” went hunting for an arm-bar or triangle, staying busy on bottom. The champ used a knee to keep Santos off of her, then briefly had an omoplata in place. That wasn’t there, but Shevchenko’s defense was solid enough to force a stand-up after Santos’ progress had essentially stalled.
Off the restart, Shevchenko landed a throw, had a headlock in place, but Santos rolled through and wound up on top, in guard. With a momentary arm-bar attempt in the middle of it all. She’d finish the round in Shevchenko’s guard — and there was a good chance Taila Santos was up on the scorecards after two rounds.
The action was halted just seconds into the third, after Santos started the frame without her mouth guard. The pair traded leg kicks on the restart, and Shevchenko had a little pepper behind her punches. She would also finally land the spinning body kick she’d fired a few times through the fight. After clinching, Shechenko had a takedown, only for Santos to nearly reverse. They got back up, and Shevchenko would find some success at range. Santos, however, trapped her against the fence, again winning the clinch battle.
A big takedown followed for Santos. She transitioned to the back, but was high up, and had to be careful not to come off the top. Santos had a body triangle in place, and got under the chin! Shevchenko peeled Santos’ arm off her, but she’d finish the round with Santos stuck on her back.
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Heading into the championship rounds, Shevchenko could very well have been down three rounds. She fired a head kick that connected, at least partially, early in round four. The ref paused the action a moment later, taking a look at Santos’ eye, which was swelling shut from a head butt that had gone undetected in the third. With her vision hampered, Santos was a sitting duck on the feet. Shevchenko immediately split the guard, finding a home for her punches. She ripped a kick to the body, and fired a superman punch.
The champ now appeared to be setting something up. She was picking Santos apart, landing left hands. The pair then clashed heads again as Shevchenko made her entry; again, it went undetected by the ref. In the final seconds of the round, Santos changed levels and scored a takedown. Not enough to win the frame, but she at least halted the champ’s momentum.
Round five would be key, with the fight either 3-1 Santos, or 2-2. Shevchenko would do herself a big favor if she could find the finish. And with Santos’ vision compromised, the chance was there. Shevchenko lit Santos up, but the Brazilian won the ensuing scramble by the fence, getting the fight down and taking the back! Shevchenko managed to free herself, but would need to avoid being taken down again.
Back at range, Shevchenko landed several times. She then chose to land a takedown of her own, getting into half-guard. An odd choice, given the champ may have needed a finish. Shevchenko landed a few slaps, then added a couple of punches, but didn’t have much space to work. In the final minute, Shevchenko briefly moved to side control, but the fence prevented anything from coming of it.
The scorecards reflected the razor-thin margin between the pair— but Valentina Shevchenko successfully defended her title, in her closest fight yet.
Official Result: Valentina Shevchenko def. Taila Santos by split decision (48-47, 47-48, 49-46)