DENVER – Valentina Shevchenko cut the line in the women’s bantamweight division, outgrappling Julianna Pena to pitch herself as the next title contender.
Shevchenko (14-2 MMA, 3-1 UFC) survived a first-round armbar attempt from Pena (8-3 MMA, 4-1 UFC) to exact revenge with the same hold in the second, bringing champ Amanda Nunes to her feet from her seat cageside.
The women’s bantamweight bout was the main event of today’s UFC on FOX 23 event at Pepsi Center in Denver. It aired on FOX following prelims on FS1 and UFC Fight Pass.
The fight was called at the 4:29 mark of the second round after Shevchenko went belly-down on her armbar and trapped Pena’s arm, forcing a tap.
Pena came into the bout on a four-fight win streak and had threatened to quit if she wasn’t awarded a title shot against champ Nunes with a win. Shevchenko, meanwhile, had arrived with an upset win over ex-champ Holly Holm, which put her back in the win column after a decision loss to champ Nunes.
Shevchenko, a former muay Thai champ, was widely expected to be the favorite if she contested Nunes on her feet. But it was on the mat where she turned the tables on Pena and picked up her biggest win to date.
Prior to the fight, Shevchenko took the expectations in stride. After upsetting Pena, she proudly declared “I am a striker, but I am an MMA fighter, and I am a complete fighter.”
Backstage at Pepsi Center, Nunes indicated her sights were more set on moving up to the featherweight division, where she targeted a bout with Holm if the ex-champ was successful against Germaine de Randamie in a fight for the inaugural belt at UFC 209.
But walking into the octagon after Shevchenko’s triumph, she threw some shade at her former opponent and cut a little face-off promo for a future matchup.
“The next time I will finish you,” Nunes said. “You know I will beat you.”
“Be careful with your words, because they will come back to you,” said Shevchenko.
Until her quick reversal of fortune, Shevchenko appeared to be letting the fight slip away. Pena tenderized her flanks with dozens of knees after pushing into the clinch, and she was unable to capitalize when she executed a pair of perfect throws. Pena nearly caught her in an armbar in the first round and did damage with ground and pound in the next frame.
But as with Holm, Shevchenko proved she is full of surprises.