OPINION: UFC 255 should be headlined by the Shevchenko sisters, not Figueiredo and Perez


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LAS VEGAS, NV – JUNE 26: Antonina Shevchenko of Kyrgyzstan celebrates after her victory over Jaimee Nievera in their women’s flyweight bout during Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series at the TUF Gym on June 26, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/DWTNCS LLC)

For the first time in UFC history, a pair of sisters — Valentina and Antonina Shevchenko — will fight on the same card. Even with Valentina fighting to defend her Flyweight belt for the fourth time, that story may be unknown to many UFC fans as the sisters’ status is overshadowed by the men’s Flyweight championship on the same night. 

And quite frankly, promoting Valentina’s fight as an afterthought is an insult to the respect she’s already earned.

For someone who calls herself “The Bullet” when introduced in the octagon, saying Valentina’s fighting style is dominant is an understatement — brutalizing is more on par with how she’s beaten all her opponents. Even Joe Rogan has commented saying, “that woman is a straight up assassin.”

“Every MMA fan should know who Valentina Shevchenko is, and her reign of dominance,” said recent DePaul graduate Noah Festenstein. “However, it is overshadowed by other reigning title holders such as Jon Jones, Amanda Nunes and most recently Khabib Nurmagomedov with his sudden retirement. Right now, Valentina has a chance to prove once again why she can be the queen of mixed martial arts.”

This isn’t to downplay the skills of current men’s Flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo, who will be defending his belt for the first time against No. 4 ranked Alex Perez. But rather, Valentina has already — and rightfully so — earned her status as one of the most complete mixed martial artists in the modern era, men’s or women’s. 

“I say it’s a little misleading to say that Deiveson Figueiredo is a more anticipated fight, because this is his first title defense,” Festenstein said. “This is Valentina’s fifth-straight title fight, and people should want to see one of the greatest of all time headlining a main event. I also believe Jennifer Maia is a suitable main event fighter, which Alex Perez doesn’t jump out as a name to me.”

No. 3 ranked Jennifer Maia was given that opportunity to fight for the title after she defeated Joanne Calderwood back on Aug. 1. Maia has earned her respect as one of the top Flyweight contenders, but Valentina comes into UFC 255 as a heavy favorite at -1667, the most of anyone on the card, according to DraftKings.

Not only will Valentina return to the octagon for the first time since Feb. 8 at UFC 247, she’ll be able to do it alongside her sister Antonina on the same night. Siblings have come and gone in the UFC, such as the Diaz and Nogueira brothers, but the Shevchenkos are a rare presence as the first female siblings ever in the UFC. 

“It is inspiring to say the least that Valentina and Antonina work together as sisters, especially during these times when we are together as family,” Festenstein said. “The basis of mixed martial arts is family, and specifically with the UFC, where the Gracie family has been represented for decades. MMA is a different breed, because it brings people together and it creates family.”

This family element has been in place long before the Shevchenko’s came to the UFC. The Shevchenko sisters come from a long lineage of Muay Thai kickboxing in their native country of Kyrgyzstan, including their mother Elena, who is the current president of the Kyrgyzstan Muay Thai Federation and retains a third-degree black belt in taekwondo. And when one sister fights, the other sits right there cageside.

“It’s thanks to our mom that we have martial arts,” Antonina said to UFC.com in 2018. “It’s the main difference from other families, so we have martial arts because of our mom. We are on this long path because of her too.”

And this can be seen on social media as well, where the two follow each other every step of the way in their daily lives. Yet in the eyes of the UFC, it is still not enough to put Valentina on top. Women’s title fights are treated as a build up to the main event, unless it involves fighters like Ronda Rousey or Nunes.

“Valentina’s elite level of skill should never be an excuse for her not to be a top bill fighter,” Festenstein said. “You want to see those knockouts and a display of dominance. It’s the kind of feeling you get while watching Lebron James or Cristiano Ronaldo. Valentina possesses a once in a lifetime talent, and we should all embrace the fights we get from her when you can guarantee a highlight.”

With every fight, Valentina has not only improved her game, she’s raised the bar so high that it may take a third fight against Nunes to settle the best pound-for-pound female fighter in the world. Those statements didn’t take long with Valentina’s first title defense back on June 8, 2019 at UFC 238, where she instantly knocked out Jessica Eye with a demolishing head kick. 

But in order to take that title away from Valentina, Maia will need to put in some serious work.

“Maia matches Valentina’s ground game to a T, whereas Valentina is your textbook stand-up striker and wrestler,” Festenstein said. “If Maia worked diligently with her grappling during camp, she can really make this a close fight. Yet, Shevchenko is a five-round fighter, which Maia isn’t accustomed to. The longer this fight lasts, the more Maia has a disadvantage.”

Antonina will fight against Ariane Lipski at Flyweight as well, giving Valentina the motivation she needs before her fight against Maia. 

“These two sisters can be on the same page at the same time and get each other fired up,” Festenstein said. “It’s an extra unique element that you’d get from siblings fighting on the same night. Sometimes you get teammates, friends, or extended family fighting on the same night, but very rarely sisters. It’s going to be a motivating element for both Valentina and Antonina to make a statement on the same night.”

It’s this kind of domination that makes the Shevchenko sisters such scary opponents to face. If I were Maia, I wouldn’t bother to blink because she may end up on the floor by the time her eyes reopen. And if I were Dana White, I’d reconsider Valentina as a top draw.