Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC
Valentina Shevchenko is a really, really good fighter.
Let’s get that out of the way right up front when discussing what makes the reigning UFC flyweight champion such a dynamic force of nature. But simply having better skills than an opponent doesn’t always lead to success in the cage. So what exactly separates Shevchenko from so many other fighters at the top of the sport?
“All these years of experience, it’s clearly showed me what I want, what I have to do to chase my dreams and exactly the right approach to the balance between resting and training,” Shevchenko, who at UFC 275 prepares to defend her title for the seventh consecutive time, explained on The Fighter vs. The Writer. “The balance between preparation and after the fight. You have to know all this. You have to manage this.
“If you want to have a long, successful career, you have to start to think about what is what is right and what is bad. You definitely have to manage everything. Every single aspect. It’s very important to know what is your road in the life. There are many things to try, but it doesn’t mean you have to try everything. I understood, thanks to martial arts, this is my road, this is my way. This is who I am and no matter what in the life, in the world to try, I don’t have to try them all. This is who I am. I don’t have to do what people want me to do. I want to do what I want to do.”
A perfect example of Shevchenko’s mindset heading into a big fight is the future possibility of becoming a two-division champion at flyweight and bantamweight. She appears to be the odds-on favorite for a title shot at 135 pounds after current UFC bantamweight champion Julianna Pena and Amanda Nunes meet at UFC 277. She holds a win over Pena and pushed former champion Amanda Nunes to the limit in a razor-close split decision in their last meeting.
While Shevchenko acknowledges that facing Pena or Nunes could absolutely end up as her next fight, she’s not looking through Santos, much less obsessing over the prospect of winning another UFC title.
“To become great, you have to have a strong mindset,” she said. “If you have the strong mindset, no matter what happens around [you], it can never come and get you. I don’t know exactly if there will be an opportunity, if the UFC will make this super fight, no matter who, because it all depends on how July’s fight is going to be between Amanda [Nunes] and Julianna Pena.
“If the UFC wants to do the super fight, [against] either of them, no matter who, I am ready for that. I am really ready, but it doesn’t mean I have to sit and say, ‘Oh the fight in July, who is going to be my opponent?’ It doesn’t mean that. I do my own things, and I’m ready to take the opportunities. I know to be successful, I have to be very focused on what I’m doing [right now].”
According to Shevchenko, she still has a lot of goals to reach in her fight career. But she doesn’t define it by wins, title fights or title defenses. Some fighters are consumed by competing for UFC gold, or perhaps the desire to win championships across multiple weight classes. Shevchenko isn’t among them.
“It’s not just that simple,” she said. “I know people, they want to hear just something simple to become double-champ, to become best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. People in general want to hear something like that simple.
“For me, the most important is to do the best at what I’m doing, and right now, I’m in the UFC. I’m UFC champion, and I want to do my job the best way I can. No matter what weight. [Whether] it be a different weight class against a different champion, be a double-champion, or whatever, I am there. I am ready to take all opportunities. I just don’t have these kinds of set goals. I’m just in general, I want to do my job the best way. This is the most important.”
Amanda Nunes may have lost sight of that when she faced Pena in 2021 as she was hailed as the greatest women’s fighter in history. Considering she had torn through every other contender, she had every reason to feel confident. But she couldn’t dispatch Pena as easily as others, and the momentum shifted rather dramatically as a result.
While Shevchenko can’t speak to Nunes’ mindset that night, she understands the mistakes that led to that result, and it’s a harsh reminder why she never wants to do the same thing.
“No matter what, you have to be ready for anything to happen,” she said. “I learn also not from my mistakes but mistakes from other people how fame affected them or some different situations affected them and I’m trying to not repeat those things.
“I know exactly what mindset I have before the fight, leading to the fight, during the training camp, and definitely I do it for myself and my team, my coach, my sister, if something is going in a different direction they say ‘Valentina be careful.’”
Shevchenko also maintains that exact approach when it comes to the accolades she’s already earning with her career right now. She’s currently ranked as the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter across the women’s divisions, and if she wins at UFC 275, Shevchenko will break Ronda Rousey’s record for the most title defenses by a woman in the octagon.
As much as she’s accomplished, Shevchenko can only say thank you before quietly putting all of that behind her as she moves onto her next objective.
“Of course, yes, I’m very grateful,” she said. “I appreciate it definitely, but I try not to think about myself like this. I’m trying not to tie this title to myself too deep, right? Because is how it starts losing the motivation.
“I’m trying to do the best way in what I am doing. I’m a fighter. I’m fighting all my life and this is what I want to do. To fight and to win.”