Though she won’t go down in the history books as the first ever UFC women’s flyweight champion – that distinction belongs to Nicco Montano – Valentina Shevchenko certainly made everyone feel like she was the first legitimate champion in the division.
Montano won the inaugural belt by winning the 26th season of The Ultimate Fighter. She never defended the belt as she was scratched from a fight with Shevchenko because she had medical issues during her weight cut. Montano was subsequently stripped of the belt.
Shevchenko was then matched with former strawweight queen Joanna Jedrzejczyk in the UFC 231 co-main event to fill the vacated slot at 125 pounds. The Russian fighter dominated her Polish opponent in a highly technical affair that left no doubts as to who should be the new champion. It’s a distinction that Shevchenko embraces, having defeated one of the greatest female fighters in UFC history.
“It was everything I expected from Joanna. I knew it will be good fight, it will be tough fight, because she is tough opponent,” Shevchenko said at the UFC 231 Post-Fight Press Conference. “I am happy to get this belt from this kind of fight.”
Shevchenko being champion could force a tough decision down the road if all goes well for her sister, Antonina, who recently made her UFC debut in the flyweight division. Like Valentina, Antonina has a storied history in kickboxing prior to fighting in the Octagon, and is currently 7-0 as a mixed martial artist. Should she climb the ranks to become a contender, however, Valentina already has an alternative plan in mind, as she will of course never fight her sibling, at least, not in the Octagon.
“I will keep this belt before (Antonina) go all the way to No. 1 contender, then I will see what I’m gonna do because I still have unfinished business with my opponent in bantamweight,” she said in a nod to UFC bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes.
“I know exactly I never lost that fight (with Nunes) and she knows that she was not winner of that fight. We’ll see, just waiting for my sister until she climbs all to No. 1.”
Shevchenko and Nunes have fought twice. Nunes won by unanimous decision in March 2016, but the fight Shevchenko disputes is their rematch in September of 2017. While many sided with Shevchenko in the second fight, Nunes got a split-decision nod from the judges to retain her belt.
Nunes is currently slated to take a trip up to featherweight, where she will challenge Cris Cyborg for her belt in the UFC 232 co-main event on Dec. 29 in Las Vegas.
For now, Shevchenko will revel in finally becoming a UFC champion in the flyweight division, where she insists that she will be an active champion, regularly defending her title.