UFC 231: Holloway vs. Ortega - Predictions and Picks
#2 Valentina Shevchenko vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk
After a disastrous year for the division, Women’s Flyweight should crown a new champion here as the former Bantamweight title challenger Shevchenko takes on the former Strawweight champion in Jedrzejczyk. For those who’ve forgotten, Shevchenko was initially pegged to challenge Nicco Montano for the title back at UFC 228, but Montano failed to make weight and was subsequently stripped of her title.
The UFC then attempted to make a fight between Shevchenko and Sijara Eubanks for the vacant title, but thankfully that pairing was scrapped in favour of this much more intriguing one. This is a battle of two of the best female strikers in the UFC right now – in fact, the two have faced off before in Muay Thai competition with Shevchenko coming out on top – and the winner will cut much more of an imposing figure than Montano did at the peak of the division.
This will be Joanna’s first fight at Flyweight – after dropping her title in a stunning upset to Rose Namajunas just over a year ago, she then attempted to reclaim her title, but struggled to deal with the movement and reach of ‘Thug’ and was outpointed over 5 rounds. A win over Tecia Torres got her back on track, but evidently she’s decided the cut to 115lbs isn’t for her any more, and decided that a move to 125lbs could re-invigorate her.
Shevchenko meanwhile made the drop to 125lbs earlier this year and had a successful debut, crushing Priscila Cachoeira, although it must be noted that the Brazilian was wildly overmatched and had never faced anyone near to the level of ‘Bullet’.
For me this comes down to two factors; firstly, whether Shevchenko can put enough activity together to win rounds from Jedrzejczyk, and secondly, whether Shevchenko decides to use her excellent grappling game to ground her Polish opponent and perhaps fish for a submission.
In terms of the first area, Jedrzejczyk has always been a super-active striker who chains together combinations and doesn’t tend to let up with her pressure inside the cage. A precise striker, the Polish native is equally violent from the clinch as she is at range.
That could prove to be tricky for Shevchenko, who notably lost her title fight with Amanda Nunes precisely due to a lack of activity – the fight turned into a staring contest for great swathes, and in the end Nunes did just about enough to outpoint ‘Bullet’. If Shevchenko can’t put together more activity on Saturday – I think Jedrzejczyk is too good of a striker to eat counters consistently – then she’ll likely lose a decision.
Could she take Joanna to the ground, though? Few opponents at 115lbs were able to test Jedrzejczyk’s takedown defense, while Shevchenko has taken down larger opponents like Nunes and Sarah Kaufman in her time in the Octagon, and showed surprisingly great grappling to submit the powerful Julianna Pena in early 2017.
Overall this is a very tough fight to pick because I could see Jedrzejczyk doing enough to outpoint Shevchenko on the feet for 5 rounds just as easily as I could see Shevchenko taking Joanna down and beating her up to set up a submission.
I’m going with Shevchenko in this one; it just feels like she’s been waiting too long for her chance at this title and I can’t see her letting it slip, and with her added size and power I suspect if she feels like she’s struggling to match Jedrzejczyk’s output standing, she’ll be able to take her down, even if it’s a difficult task. And on the ground I just can’t trust a fighter as unproven there as Joanna against someone as dangerous as ‘Bullet’.
The Pick: Shevchenko via unanimous decision