UFC 231: Valentina Shevchenko ready to fight, title or not

Forget finally getting to fight for the flyweight championship Saturday. Valentina Shevchenko is thrilled to finally be fighting, period.

Forgive Shevchenko for being impatient. The UFC’s top-ranked 125-pounder used to accept bouts on a week’s notice and participate in Muay Thai tournaments featuring as many as four fights in a week.

Yet here we are, 10 months after her last fight, and the blonde Kyrgyzstani is ready to tear down the Octagon to get at former strawweight queen and Muay Thai nemesis Joanna Jedrzejczyk in the UFC 231 co-main event in Toronto.

“I trained for this fight … in March, and it was continuously preparation for this fight,” said the 5-foot-5 Shevchenko, in town two weeks ago, during an exclusive interview. “And I finally will be able to explode everything and show my techniques and my skills and more. I’m happy that I will show it in the exact and right weight class for me – 125 is my weight class. Where I feel very strong, very fast and confident.”

The plan wasn’t for a near-year layoff after Shevchenko (15-3), having dropped down from the 135-pound bantamweight division, annihilated UFC newcomer Priscila Cachoeira via a second-round rear-naked choke Feb. 3.

Shevchenko, 30, went through a scheduling obstacle course to get to Saturday’s title fight.

First she was slated to take on inaugural champion Nicco Montaño, who won the belt in an upset by winning The Ultimate Fighter, on Sept. 8. Montaño fell ill due to weight-cutting the day before UFC 228, the fight was canceled and Montaño was promptly stripped of the championship.

In September, Shevchenko was booked for this fight against Jedrzejczyk (15-2), then moved to the UFC 230 main event against Sijara Eubanks on Nov. 3, then in October shifted back to the UFC 231 co-main against her longtime rival.

From 2006-08, Shevchenko and Jedrzejczyk fought three times. Each time, Shevchenko won via unanimous decision.

“It will give me more confidence for my fight because I know what to expect, what kind of opponent to expect, speed and power and everything like this,” Shevchenko said. “Of course, it’s past like 10 years since the last fight, but in general, it doesn’t change nothing. Of course, she improved in her fight. I improved in my fights. But by the end of the day, it won’t make any difference.”

UFC top-ranked 125-pounder Valentina Shevchenko will take on former strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk for the vacant flyweight title in the UFC 231 co-main event Dec. 8 in Toronto. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Don’t take that as cockiness. Shevchenko has been participating in martial arts since she was 5.

By the time she was 11 or 12, and as she began to experiment with other disciplines, she said she was starting to look at it as a potential career.

“I already knew that this is what I’m gonna do during my life because martial arts for me, it’s not just my job. It’s not just the way to get some money. Of course it’s important,” Shevchenko said with a laugh. “But parts of these martial arts is everything for me. My lifestyle, my philosophy, my religion. Everything.”

Shevchenko went all-in on MMA when she signed with the UFC in 2015. She debuted at 135 pounds with a split-decision win over Sarah Kaufman, then dropped a unanimous decision to future champion Amanda Nunes.

After impressive victories over former champion Holly Holm and top contender Julianna Pena, Shevchenko got another crack at Nunes, who now wore the bantamweight strap.

Eighteen months after their first fight, Nunes was awarded a razor-thin split decision at UFC 215 in September of last year. Shevchenko says she has no regrets since she thinks she won.

“Not my mistake, but the mistake of the judges. I missed my belt, but it was in the past,” she said. “I’m not going to the past and it’s not tied to me, every time moving forward and this is more important – to move forward every time.”

Ten months after her last fight and 15 months after her last title fight, Shevchenko has everything she wants right in front of her.

She gets a dynamic striker not only moving up in weight to challenge her, but likely moving forward into her counter-punching prowess.

Shevchenko promises the following: It will be an aggressive, entertaining fight, and she will stop Jedrzejczyk and become the flyweight champion.

“I will win the fight because I was training so long for this fight and I don’t want to leave the decision for the judges,” she said. “I will try to do everything to finish the fight earlier as I can. No more, no more.”

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