Joanna vs Shevchenko

Joanna vs Shevchenko Live: As featherweight champion Max Holloway and challenger Brian Ortega make their walks to the cage before the UFC 231 main event stream, those in attendance at a sold-out Scotiabank Arena will still be digesting what should turn out to be a thrilling co-main event between Valentina Shevchenko and Joanna Jedrzejczyk.

More than six years ago at UFC 152, in the same venue as Saturday’s pay-per-view card in Toronto, Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson and Joseph Benevidez competed for the inaugural UFC flyweight title in a bout that essentially introduced mainstream MMA fans to the 125-pound weight class. Johnson emerged victorious after a five-round split decision and used it to springboard his career, eventually becoming an all-time pound-for-pound great thanks to his UFC record 11 consecutive title defences. Shevchenko and Jedrzejczyk now have a similar opportunity as the UFC reintroduces the women’s flyweight title.

Jedrzejczyk had already built a solid legacy as a strawweight great but following two consecutive losses to current champ Rose Namajunas — the only two defeats of her MMA career — she needed to hit the reset button. She bounced back with an impressive unanimous decision win over Tecia Torres in July but the weight cut down to 115 pounds had started taking its toll on the Polish star.

So when the opportunity was presented to Jedrzejczyk to become a champion again, while not having to significantly decrease her caloric intake and deplete her body, she leaped at it.

She can make history by becoming the first two-weight women’s champ in UFC history. To do that she must get by Shevchenko, something she failed to do on three separate occasions in the past.

With that in mind, here’s a closer look at the UFC 231 co-main event.

Jedrzejczyk took women’s MMA by storm when she debuted in the UFC in 2014, overwhelming her foes with a blitzkrieg of fists, shins, elbows, knees, footwork, sprawls and a Chuck-Liddell-in-his-prime killer instinct.

Despite all her accomplishments, she’s a sizeable underdog against Shevchenko.

Even though she has tasted defeat in her past, Shevchenko’s persona is similar in many respects to that of stoic lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. They both hail from Russia — Shevchenko from Kyrgystan, Nurmagomedov Dagestan — but have each accrued a strong North American following. They can give you a smirk and say something amusing in their distinct broken English accents. They can also flash you a steely gaze that says, ‘You are nothing more than meat and bone to me,’ a look their previous opponents are familiar with.

Anything can happen in MMA and fighters often cloak their strategy heading into a bout. However, it seems a safe bet that the bulk of this fight will take place on the feet.

You won’t hear many fans call Shevchenko a boring fighter, but she is often tentative early in fights and rarely takes unnecessary risks. She’s an effective counterstriker and has shown a willingness to wait until her opponent presents an opening. One of her most impressive victories to date is her five-round unanimous decision win over former women’s bantamweight champion Holly Holm, an elite counterstriker in her own right.

Shevchenko was more patient, more accurate and there was more sting on her shots that night against Holm and it’s a scenario that could play out similarly on Saturday. Jedrzejczyk tends to be aggressive and move forward, which could play to Shevchenko’s favour.

Her patience cost her a couple rounds in her two bouts with bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes, the second of which was a controversial split decision with the title on the line, but we didn’t see the slightest hint of timidity from Shevchenko in her most recent tilt when she painted the canvas crimson with Priscila Cachoeira’s blood and exploited a significant advantage on the ground.

Jedrzejczyk showed in her knockout loss to Namajunas that she is susceptible to lead left hooks. She’ll have to be aware of lead rights this time with Shevchenko being a traditional southpaw whose arsenal is equipped with a mean lead hook and check hook. Jedrzejczyk has an affinity for throwing front kicks up the middle and she should employ that strategy Saturday. Right down the pipe is where Shevchenko can be vulnerable, as is frequently the case when two opposite-stance fighters throw down.

Jedrzejczyk moves well on her feet and should have a speed advantage, which will aid in her attempt to avoid the power shots of Shevchenko. She may also carry a bit more power into the cage with her this time.

Jedrzejczyk’s work rate is roughly twice that of Shevchenko on the feet. The former strawweight lands 6.44 strikes per minute compared to the former bantamweight’s 3.31 strikes landed per minute.

In the grappling department, Shevchenko has a clear edge despite Jedrzejczyk being fully capable on the ground. Shevchenko boasts decent takedowns and trips from various headlock positions, but only look for her to go in that direction if she’s losing the standup exchanges. Shevchenko has submitted two of her past three opponents so Jedrzejczyk must be wary.

Cardio won’t be an issue for either woman. Neither will a lack of confidence.

Shevchenko, on the other hand, thinks their history will play a role in this fight. She’s also hoping to beat the best possible version of Jedrzejczyk.

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