LAS VEGAS, Nevada — Valentina Shevchenko believes her final title defense just proved the difference between a champion and a challenger.
The longtime UFC women’s flyweight champion faced Taila Santos last year in what many consider to be her toughest fight yet. The fight made enough of an impression that it was brought up almost immediately at UFC 285 media day ahead of Shevchenko’s fight against Alexa Grasso.
“I think it’s a good fight, we’re definitely talking about top competition. The best mixed martial arts promotion in the world, and we’re competing against all the best athletes,” Shevchenko told media outlets, including Cageside Press. “Not every fight is an easy fight, but that’s the difference between a champion and a challenger. Because a champion, no matter how tough the fight, there is always a way to keep it.”
“That’s what I show in my fights. No matter how hard it is, yes, it might be harder than the previous fights, but I’m still a champion.”
It was so rare to see Shevchenko struggling — her split-decision win over Santos — that the memory of that fight has yet to fade. That, even as Shevchenko enters her fight with Grasso, is a heavy favorite. Other opponents are already lining up for the “bullet” — from Erin Blanchfield to talking about former UFC bantamweight Rin Nakai’s return to the promotion.
[email protected] let yourself in #top 10 I would love to check your skills 👊👊
Congratulations on your recent win too 👊 https://t.co/5cowJrWZz3
— Valentina Shevchenko (@BulletValentina) February 19, 2023
Nakai, who has a ten-game winning streak outside the UFC, is someone Shevchenko says she’s willing to fight — as long as the Japanese star earns a spot in the top ten. As for Blanchfield, the champion feels it’s too early. She suggested that Blanchfield might need another fight, if not more, to fight for gold.
“I still believe that if they took her [in the fight]which is great, but I still believe she’s not ready for a title fight,” she said.
After years of grueling training camp, Valentina Shevchenko has grown and continued to find waves to improve her skills.
“The coolest thing about martial arts is that you never stop improving. No matter how successful you are, you get better every day you’re here,” she told Cageside Press. “No matter how successful a fight is or what it is, there are things to do after every fight.”
After every title fight, Shevchenko and her team keep that in mind, “Look what we can add to my game, and then we go at it. The process never stops for me, so It just comes naturally to me. Every time I’m looking for how to get better.”
The flyweight champion later spoke about how women’s MMA has improved in general in recent years. “The level is high now. Now we can see not only style versus style, like wrestler versus striker — no, girls are complete MMA fighters. They’re good at hitting, they’re good at wrestling, they’re good at ground game. It’s that The development of the sport, MMA, mixed martial arts, is currently the number one sport in the world.”
Watch Valentina Shevchenko’s full UFC 285 media day appearance above.