On the 28th January, #1 contender Valentina “Bullet” Shevchenko will take on #2 Julianna “Venezuelan Vixen” Pena in a highly anticipated five round main event in the women’s bantamweight division to determine the legitimate #1 contender and next in line at a shot at the 135 lbs champion, Amanda Nunes.
A decorated kickboxer & Muay Thai fighter and now, all round proficient MMA competitor, Valentina Shevchenko has become known for her calculated approach to combat utilizing precise striking of the hands, knees and kicks complimented with a world class Muay Thai clinch. Still a slight new comer to the bright lights of the UFC’s octagon, the 28-year-old Shevchenko made a successful debut in December of 2015 against Sarah Kaufman, before losing a unanimous decision to the now undisputed bantamweight champion, Amanda Nunes.
Although putting on a valiant display against Nunes, by coming back to take the last round after losing the first two, Shevchenko’s coming out party as a star in her own right was against former champion Holly Holm in a five round main event in July 2016. In this technical chess match against the two most decorated strikes in the Women’s 135-pound division, Shevchenko put on a master class against the bigger Holly Holm, out counter-striking the counter striker to earn a unanimous decision victory over the former champion.
Winner of The Ultimate Fighter 18, Julianna Pena was out of competition for just shy of two years after tearing her ACL, MLC and LCL after the training session gone wrong, after her TKO win of Jessica Rakoczy in the Finale in November 2013. Though since her return to the octagon, Pena has been on a tear through the division racking up three consecutive wins over the likes of Milana Dudley, Jessica Eye and most recent and impressive, a dominating unanimous decision over Cat “Alpha” Zingano, a top contender who holds a win over the current champ Amanda Nunes. The 27-year-old has looked better each time we’ve seen her step into the octagon, her chin to chest, coming straight for you, scrappy striking complimented with a terrific grappling game has rocketed Julianna Pena to #2 and one fight away from a possible shot at UFC gold.
The main event at UFC Fight Night 23 between Shevchenko and Pena comes down to the age old battle between the technical cautious counter-striker in Shevchenko against the wild, gutsy brawler in Pena. This five rounder will consist of Pena pushing the pace, coming straight forward, her hands high either side of her face, chin exposed in the “Miesha Tate” style defense, looking to get in for a clinch and possibly a takedown. The difference though is where Pena has had success in the past against strikers of her same or less caliber, Shevchenko’s striking is on a different level. Shevchenko’s ability to keep the distance, counter striker and then when finally clinched, prevent the take down, throw knees and elbows from the clinch and even set up one of her own hip-tosses, which she has been seen to do throughout her time in the UFC, all the time whilst staying composed and remaining unflustered by the Pena onslaught, will negate Pena’s offense.
The first round being Pena’s best opportunity to get in close on Shevchenko and try to take her to the ground, if Shevchenko is able to survive the initial barrage, Shevchenko’s superior technical stand up will come into play and as Pena tires and becomes more sloppy on her entries into the clinch and takedown attempts, Shevchenko will begin to pick the young Venezuelan apart.
A tough fought battle on the part of Julianna Pena, Shevchenko’s experience, and skillful striking will lead her to a unanimous decision victory over the Venezuelan Vixen, if not a late stoppage in the 4th or 5th.
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