Valentina Shevchenko likely solidified her spot as the next title contender at 135-pounds following a nasty second-round submission to put away Julianna Pena in the main event at FOX UFC Fight Night in Denver.
Going into the fight, Shevchenko was pegged as a striker due to her vast background as a Muay Thai kickboxing champion while Pena was regarded as the grappler in a classic clash of styles.
As it turns out, Shevchenko is more than happy to go to the mat with any opponent, even those who are touted as wrestling and submission specialists.
Almost immediately as the fight got underway, Pena looked to get inside to avoid Shevchenko’s numerous weapons on the feet as she locked up the clinch while pressing the action against the cage.
Pena was trying to tag Shevchenko with knees to the body, but on two occasions the No. 1 ranked bantamweight contender reversed positions and tossed her opponent to the ground with a big body lock slam.
The second takedown ended with Shevchenko hammering away at Pena’s face before the former “Ultimate Fighter” winner was able to regain the guard position to avoid taking more damage on the ground.
With just seconds remaining in the opening round, Pena was able to throw up an armbar attempt from the bottom, but Shevchenko defended well until the horn finally sounded.
Pena’s submission attempt ended up as a harbinger of things to come, except this time it was Shevchenko on the bottom looking for the finish.
While Pena struggled to get the fight to the ground in the opening round, she was able to put Shevchenko on the mat early in round two after abandoning the clinch and working for a more traditional double leg takedown instead.
Pena maintained control but struggled to find an opening for her punches until Shevchenko saw a window to turn her hips while looking for an armbar from the bottom.
As soon as Shevchenko had the arm locked, she extended her lower body to torque the pressure on the elbow, which forced Pena to roll out while trying to circle away from the submission attempt.
Pena’s efforts fell short as her movement only saw Shevchenko twist the arm even more and the tap came just a few seconds later as the 28-year-old Russian notched her third win in the Octagon while likely securing her spot as the next contender to face champion Amanda Nunes.
“Many people before the fight they said ‘Valentina you’re a striker, Julianna is a wrestler, how are you going to deal with this?’ and every time I said, ‘yes, I’m a striker but I’m an MMA fighter and I am a complete fighter’,” Shevchenko said after the win.
The victory for Shevchenko comes one fight after beating former champion Holly Holm, which likely solidifies her spot as the next in line to face Nunes later this year.
Shevchenko’s lone loss in the Octagon came to Nunes last year in a hard-fought three-round battle. Now it appears that she’ll get the chance to avenge that defeat with the UFC women’s bantamweight title on the line.