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Shevchenko Vs. Macfarlane

Courtesy of James Rees

Survival of the fittest. One of the world’s oldest laws of nature. As human beings, we have the natural drive to be the best and to be on top. Eminem said, “This is survival of the fittest, this is do or die, this is the winner takes it all, so take it all”. The UFC has been the face of MMA, the favorite son, the leading brand when it comes to the MMA scene, and their signing with ESPN was just the cherry on top. Bellator, the second son of MMA, lurked in the shadows, teaming with media power-giant ViacomCBS, building up their rosters with veterans and up-and-coming stars. Casual MMA fans will never admit this, but Bellator is closing the gap between them and the UFC and is in a league of their own. Over the past couple of months, Bellator and the UFC have braved the pandemic, coordinating themselves, and have been hosting cards during these hard and troubling times. In a way, it’s been Bellator vs. UFC over the past months. Bellator lost one of its top poster boys, “Iron” Michael Chandler to the UFC. In retaliation, Bellator recently signed a new free agent, Fabricio “Vai Cavallo” Werdum. With this influx of signings and releasing, a lot of chitter-chatter has started of Bellator vs. UFC, with fighters chipping in their 2 bits and vying for cross-promotional bouts. Now, here we breakdown the first division that they both have, which is the Women’s Flyweight Division. As the legendary Mike Goldberg says, “HERE WE GO”!

Copyright & Courtesy of Bellator

First, we look at “The Iliminator” Ilimi-Lei Macfarlane. Hailing from Honolulu, Hawaii, Macfarlane began her amateur mixed martial arts career back in 2014. She went undefeated with a 5-0 record with Xplode Fight Series (XFS). Macfarlane’s first professional fight was an unsanctioned match against Katie Castro for XFS in 2015. This bout resulted in the famous viral video “Soccer mom loses to MMA fighter”. Macfarlane won via technical knockout ten seconds in the first round. Keyword in the bout Unsanctioned. It was so lopsided that the CASC (California State Athletic Commission) started an investigation into the organization itself. McFarlane would ride the rocket ship of viral fame and got Bellator’s attention and Macfarlane signed a three-fight contract with them in 2015. She was also the Combat Jiu-Jitsu Women’s Flyweight Champion at the Eddie Bravo Invitational back in 2017.

Courtesy of Dave Mendel-USA TODAY SPORTS

Once again, she would debut with Bellator and go 5-0 in their Women’s Flyweight division, winning 3 of 5 bouts via submission. She finally fought for Bellator’s inaugural Women’s Flyweight Championship at Bellator 186 in a rematch with Emily Ducote, winning via armbar variation in the 5th and final round. She then went on to defend her championship 4 times and will defend it a 5th time at Bellator 254 on December 10th. Everyone will argue and say that Bellator doesn’t have a rich talent pool, but her credentials say otherwise. With what she’s accomplished and the fact she is undefeated, she is slowly climbing the Women’s P4P ranking. No one will see her in the UFC due to the fact that Macfarlane has signed a ten-fight, five-year extension contract with Bellator on February of 2020. As you can see, she is a wiz when it comes to grappling. And if it’s one thing that can test Valentina Shevchenko, it will be the grappling aspect.

Image source: Valentina Shevchenko Instagram (@bulletvalentina)

Valentina Anatolievna Shevchenko, aka “Bullet”, is a Kyrgyzstani-Peruvian professional mixed martial artist and former Muay Thai champion. From 2003 to 2015, Shevchenko had 50+ matches in K-1, Muay Thai, and kickboxing.  Shevchenko won 8 gold medals when she competed in the IFMA World Championships and the IMFA Royal World Cup in 2015. During these competitions, Shevchenko defeated future UFC strawweight queen Joanna Jędrzejczyk (remember her name) three times. She is considered to be the best Muay Thai women’s fighter in the world. She would begin her MMA career in the bantamweight division since most promotions only had that weight class for the women in the early years of MMA.  

Courtesy of Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

She had a short 1 fight stint with Legacy FC, winning the bout via unanimous decision. She then debuted in the UFC on a short-notice fight, replacing Germaine de Randamie, in a bout against Sarah Kaufman at UFC on Fox 17  in December 2015. She, just like Macfarlane, won her promotional debut bout via split decision. She would lose her next bout to current UFC Bantamweight & Featherweight Champion, Amanda Nunes via unanimous decision. She lost the bout due to her slow start and Nunes almost finishing her via RNC in the 2nd round. She would bounce back and beat former Bantamweight Champ Holly Holm and Julianna Peña. She would finally get her a rematch and a shot at gold against Nunes in a not-so-stellar bout in which media outlets were split. Out of 22 outlets. It was split 50/50, 10 outlets giving it to Nunes, 10 outlets giving it to Shevchenko, and 2 giving it a draw. With 2 losses against the champ, a third shot at gold in one of the women’s primary and loaded divisions at the time was a long shot.

TORONTO, ON- DECEMBER 9 – Valentina Shevchenko wins against Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 231 at Scotiabank Arena to win the UFC Flyweight Championship in Toronto. December 9, 2018. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Luckily for Valentina, the UFC used The Ultimate Fighter: A New World
Champion (TUF 26) to establish the new Flyweight division and crown Nicco Montana as the champion. Everyone knew that Montana’s first defense would be against Shevchenko. It was similar to the de Randamie/Cyborg situation. But on the week of the bout, Montana pulled out due to weight cutting issues and was stripped of the championship. Now, Valentina would face off against former UFC strawweight champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk (remember her), who was coming off a loss trying to reclaim her gold. Valentina, just like in the past, claimed victory over JJ with ease, finally staking her claim at UFC gold. In a not so deep division, she would defend her gold 3 times successfully and has an impending defense against contender Jennifer Maia coming up this month at UFC 255. Valentina is a world-class striker with good grappling skills and uses her striking to keep most of her fights standing. And she makes her opponents respect her striking so much to the point she can take them down with ease and leads to her showcasing her ground skills. With both Nunes and Shevchenko cleaning out their divisions, an eventual rematch between them is inevitable and would be the trilogy of the decade, as they are currently 2 of the top female fighters in the world.

These 2 champions might look beautiful, but don’t let their beauty fool you from how dangerous they can be. Courtesy of Kevin S. Varghese

These 2 killer queens have built their legacies with dominance. How does a 5 round bout go between them? One is undefeated, and one has only lost to the Women’s P4P G.O.A.T., Amanda Nunes. Here is my written simulation of the fight. With Valentina being a slow starter, she uses the first round to study Macfarlane and gauge her distance. She will stay outside the pocket, pushing Macfarlane off-center, helping her control the center of the octagon with chipping leg kicks and body shots. Macfarlane will close the distance and clinch with her against the cage. They will keep the clinch while Macfarlane throws punches and knees for about 2 minutes before Valentina breaks it and they return to the center. They both remain cautious and maintains distance until the end of the round, and I give the round 10-9 Shevchenko. As the 2nd round begins, Valentina increases her paces and starts throwing more advanced strikes, including her patent spinning back fist. Macfarlane will try to return fire but to no avail. After 2 minutes of just chipping away at Macfarlane, Shevchenko will blitz with a combo and go into a Muay Thai clinch against the cage. She throws knees and elbows from the clinch for about 45 seconds, before Macfarlane reverses and puts Valentina against the cage. Here she manages an inside trip leading to Valentina falling to full guard, and Macfarlane manages to slip into half guard. Macfarlane will throw elbows and punches as Shevchenko manages to transition to full guard on her back. As she transitions, she will be against the fence and manages to get back up with Macfarlane having a side back clinch against the cage (This is a key moment, don’t forget). Macfarlane will attempt to backpack her and bring her down, looking for a potential rear-naked choke. Macfarlane fails to get both hooks in, and Valentina reverses into full guard and stays on top while recovering. Macfarlane throws a couple of elbows, but Valentina defends. They remain in this position until the end of the round, and I give the round to Macfarlane, resulting in the scorecard being a 19-19 Tie. At the start of the 3rd round, both ladies meet in the middle. They exchange jabs and Macfarlane rushes for a power double leg takedown, and they end up in a sprawl. Shevchenko will attempt to transition to take her back, but Macfarlane will clinch her and stand her up against the cage. Shevchenko breaks it off and starts re-engage in striking. Here comes a game-changing moment.

HOUSTON, TEXAS – FEBRUARY 08: (R-L) Valentina Shevchenko of Kyrgyzstan kicks Katlyn Chookagian in their women’s flyweight championship bout during the UFC 247 event at Toyota Center on February 08, 2020 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Shevchenko fakes a jab, resulting in Macfarlane dipping down to slip it, and Valentina follows the feign with a  spinning body kick that connects on her face (because she slipped the jab) a la Mousasi/Hall. The crowd erupts! With Macfarlane scrambling from being knocked down, she holds onto a single leg, while Shevchenko attempts elbows to the side of her temple and punches to the body. While Macfarlane recovers, Shevchenko escapes the single-leg attempt to force Macfarlane to stand up. Macfarlane stands and holds a high guard, to prevent any headshots from Valentina. Macfarlane keeps circling on the outside, recovering while Valentina keeps throwing leg kicks and teep kicks to chip away at Macfarlane. The round ends and things are looking good for Shevchenko, with her winning the round and possibly getting a 10-8. I give it to her, and she leads 29-28. The 4th and first championship round begins and Macfarlane has almost recovered. Valentina comes out bold and strong, immediately throwing a front kick after meeting at the center. Macfarlane will be cautious this whole round, so she stays the majority of the round outside the pocket. Valentina will get frustrated and close the distance, engaging in a Muay Thai clinch throwing knees to the body. Macfarlane’s body locks Shevchenko and attempts an inside trip, which is defended. As they duel in the clinch, Macfarlane defends Valentina’s attempt to break free. Around the 4 minute mark, she breaks, and they re-engage in the middle. Macfarlane avoids engaging so she can collect herself and the bell rings. I give the round to Valentina, with her leading 39-37. Macfarlane needs the finish. Her coaches advises her while she’s in the corner that she is losing the fight and needs the finish. Valentina knows she’s winning the fight and her coaches advised her not to go over the top and to maintain the lead. It is the 5th and final round. The last championship round. The crowd is buzzing. Will Ilimi-Lei pull out the victory, or will Shevchenko cement herself as the top Women’s Flyweight fighter in the world?

A standing rear-naked choke to Rebecca Ruth at Bellator 157. Courtesy of Bellator

Jason Herzog (oh yeah, he’s the ref for this match), signals both ladies to meet in the middle. Both ladies meet and exchange high fives. Valentina just uses her jabs and 2 piece combos to keep Macfarlane from entering the pocket for a takedown. This goes on for 2 and a half minutes. Here is where the end begins. Valentina throws a roundhouse body kick which Ilimi-Lei catches and sweeps her to take her down. As Shevchenko is on her back, she drags herself to the cage and attempts to stand up. Macfarlane loses the battle and they slowly stand up with Ilimi-lei holding a side back clinch on Shevchenko against the cage. Macfarlane, knowing she needs the finish, jumps into a body triangle with one hook around Valentina’s neck. As they crash to the ground, Macfarlane locks in both hooks, squeezing for her life. Jon Anik and Mike Goldberg are going nuts, with the crowd even going more mental. Valentina does her best to fight the hands, but the hooks are in and tight under her chin. Slowly but surely, Valentina fades and goes to sleep, with Herzog rushing in and calling the fight! Ilimi-lei Macfarlane pulls off the upset and wins in the 5th round via submission (rear-naked choke). And that’s that, folks.

To me, Valentina will only lose to someone with superior grappling credentials, and I think Macfarlane is the gal with the stuff to beat a highly skilled and talented striker like Valentina Shevchenko. If Ilimi-lei Macfarlane were to come over to the UFC, no one in that division would give her a run for her money. But the sad part is, Dana hates Scott Coker and Bellator and is set on never cross-promoting with them. But hey, a guy can dream, right?

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