UFC Belem: Valentina Shevchenko's flyweight debut a low-danger, high-reward opportunity

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(Getty Photographs)

When Valentina Shevchenko’s debut within the newly minted flyweight division was first introduced, many inside the combined martial arts group reacted with shock and confusion.

Right here was a former title challenger, recent of a cut up determination loss to Amanda Nunes in the primary occasion of UFC 215 in Edmonton, prepared to start her journey within the one hundred twenty five-pound weight class and as an alternative of being inserted immediately into a championship matchup with Nicco Montano, “Bullet” was booked to compete on an early February Battle Night time occasion.

In Brazil. Towards a UFC newcomer. One who seems grossly overmatched on paper.

“What provides?” requested the plenty, although not in such well mannered and easy phrases.

In accordance with the vocal majority on social media, Shevchenko ought to have been tabbed as Montano’s first challenger and given each opportunity to say UFC gold and grow to be the face of the division in expedient style.

She’s a acquainted identify and shouldn’t need to waste her time taking over an unknown neophyte on a random Saturday night on FS1. To many, that is a Monopoly state of affairs — don’t move Go, don’t gather $200 — besides as an alternative of going on to jail, Shevchenko ought to go straight to the highest of the record of contenders and into one other championship struggle.

Personally, I by no means understood it and assume reserving her towards Priscila Cachoeira on Saturday is completely the fitting approach to go.

At first, she’s by no means fought at flyweight, so ensuring that she will hit one hundred twenty five (or 126) on the size Friday morning in Belem is a good concept.

What number of occasions within the final couple years have we gotten heated when an necessary struggle or one we’re all stoked to see will get scrapped on the eleventh hour as a result of somebody’s weight reduce has gone sideways? It’s the sort of state of affairs that cripples struggle playing cards and canine the competitor for a variety of fights — or in some instances, their whole careers — and it will be promotionally irresponsible to e-book the primary UFC ladies’s flyweight title battle with a competitor who has by no means made championship weight up to now.

Montano gained the title by defeating late alternative Roxanne Modafferi when fellow finalist Sijara Eubanks couldn’t make weight and she or he’s already been declared an undeserving titleholder by followers and media. She’s already preventing an uphill battle and her street to recognition and acceptance can be made much more troublesome if her first title protection was scuttled as a result of her challenger did not hit one hundred twenty five kilos.

To me, reserving Shevchenko right here quantities to a trial run for a potential title struggle — a probability to show she will make the championship restrict with out situation earlier than risking a main battle getting scrapped as a result of one thing went awry throughout her weight reduce.

Secondly, that is a probability to let her get on the market and probably acquire a powerful victory that makes her look terrific heading into a title struggle.

As a lot as she has some excellent wins on her resume, her bout with Nunes in Edmonton wasn’t precisely thrilling and promoting her as a critical menace coming off a tepid cut up determination loss doesn’t sound like a nice gross sales pitch whenever you’re making an attempt to get individuals to tune into a new division with a champion everybody has already written off.

Even when the hook is that Shevchenko is the confirmed challenger coming down in weight trying to dethrone the placeholder champion, just like the best way Joanna Jedrzejczyk ended Carla Esparza’s reign at strawweight earlier than she ever actually received settled, we’re a yr faraway from her final victory. Sadly, her conquer Holly Holm turns into much less and fewer spectacular with every passing loss the previous bantamweight champ suffers.

If the goal is to have Shevchenko fill the Jedrzejczyk position at flyweight and ascend to the highest of the division within the first submit-TUF title struggle, having her exit and gather a dominant efficiency on the street towards a beforehand unbeaten opponent can be a welcome addition to her sizzle reel and make promoting her as a deserving challenger even simpler.

Lastly — and this the one that basically will get me — let’s not fake like Shevchenko is a few sort of large star who followers have been flocking to see at each flip. Diehards love her, positive. However even the hardcore set wasn’t precisely bought on the thought of her and Nunes operating it again in the primary occasion of final yr’s Worldwide Battle Week card in Las Vegas.

As soon as it obtained scrapped, the anticipation for the competition fell off a cliff and nothing about the best way the battle performed out do something to actually bolster the 29-yr-previous standout’s standing as a should-see fighter.

She has the potential to be, however regardless of being booked to problem for UFC gold on two separate events, Shevchenko nonetheless hasn’t actually been put in a place to develop as a draw and elite competitor that somebody together with her combined of expertise and marketability ought to be.

Not solely is she a gifted fighter who has impressed in all 5 of her UFC appearances, however she’s additionally a lovely multi-time kickboxing and Muay Thai world champion and speaks a number of languages. On prime of that, Shevchenko has a cool backstory, has older sister who can also be a badass and will get a look within the UFC sooner or later — and she or he’s a heck of a dancer.

Aside from the truth that English isn’t her first language, Shevchenko has all the weather to be a potential star within the firm — and probably the face of the flyweight division — however it hasn’t occurred but and nobody likes when the UFC randomly decides to label somebody a celebrity proper earlier than they problem for a title once they’d by no means accomplished so up to now.

So this weekend is a probability for the UFC to get that ball rolling and see what they’ve in Shevchenko as issues within the flyweight division kick off in earnest this yr.

If all the things goes nicely, she’ll flip in a blistering efficiency to get again within the win column and the UFC may have a challenger with star potential able to struggle for the title later this yr.

If not — if she misses weight, doesn’t look nice or occurs to lose — it has come on a random Saturday night time occasion from Belem, Brazil and never when Shevchenko is being counted on to assist carry a main pay-per-view occasion.