Valentina Shevchenko is still the best flyweight in the sport but Jennifer Maia gave her a tougher fight than most expected.
Walking into the UFC 255 co-main event, the reigning 125-pound champion was around a 20-to-1 favorite and while she ultimately won a unanimous decision, Maia refused to make it an easy night for her on Saturday in Las Vegas. In the end, Shevchenko’s superior striking and surprisingly strong grappling out worked Maia with all three scorecards reading 49-46 for the defending champion.
“Preparing for this fight, I knew that Jennifer wouldn’t be an easy opponent,” Shevchenko said. “I knew it was going to be a good fight for the belt. I knew she was going to be tough. She’s a good fighter.”
The overall tempo of the fight stayed the same throughout with Shevchenko securing takedowns and then working from inside Maia’s guard, who was largely stuck playing defense off her back. Shevchenko was methodical while setting up her punches and elbows without giving Maia an inch to look for submissions or escape back to her feet.
With Shevchenko obviously looking to out grapple her opponent, Maia managed to settle into her own rhythm in the clinch before reversing her fortune with a takedown of her own. Once she landed on top, Maia was able to control Shevchenko on the ground but didn’t do much damage despite keeping the flyweight champion underneath her.
While she came into the fight as a massive underdog, Maia definitely won the second round but that ultimately served as the best possible wake-up call for Shevchenko.
As the fight moved forward, Shevchenko began throwing with more force behind her strikes while popping Maia with several stiff left hands. Shevchenko also launched a head kick that Maia blocked with her hands, but it certainly gave notice that the champion wasn’t just going to give away her title without a serious battle.
On the feet, Shevchenko was clearly the faster, more accurate fighter but she was determined to put Maia on her back in an attempt to punish her on the ground. Shevchenko was just peppering away with short punches while working to advance her position and staying glued to Maia so she couldn’t slip free.
With five minutes remaining, Maia had to know it was do-or-die for her chance to win the title but Shevchenko never gave an inch. The flyweight queen was slick and strong on the feet as the damage started to add up on the Brazilian’s face.
As the clock ran out, Shevchenko was still throwing with fire behind her punches but Maia wasn’t backing down while determined to make it to the final horn. While Maia definitely had a valiant effort, it still wasn’t enough as Shevchenko retained her title for the fourth consecutive time.
The result definitely mattered most but Maia did manage to win a round against the flyweight champion, which hadn’t been done since Joanna Jedrzejczyk did the same in her fight against Shevchenko in 2018.
Still, Shevchenko remains one of the most dominant champions on the entire UFC roster and now she awaits a potential showdown against either Jessica Andrade or Lauren Murphy, who are both clamoring for the next title shot in the flyweight division.