April 18, 2024

Valentina Shevchenko: UFC flyweight says travel helped her become multiple discipline great

Valentina Shevchenko had won nine fights in a row prior to losing against Alexa Grasso at UFC 285

Travel broadens the mind, at least that is how the old saying goes, and it is a mantra that former UFC flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko lives by.

Shevchenko is a true mixed martial artist with a CV and the air miles to prove it.

Hailing from Kyrgyzstan – a nation with a population of just under seven million – the 35-year-old has spent her career travelling the world to bolster her skillset and broaden her horizons.

Shevchenko regularly trains in Thailand and has previously spent time training in Peru and Las Vegas.

Not only does she hold the women’s record for the most successful title defences in the UFC at seven, she has won 17 Muay Thai world titles and has picked up titles in kickboxing, taekwondo, judo and boxing.

“It [travel] gives you the possibility to train with different partners, experience different techniques and different characters. It brings experience into your own game,” Shevchenko tells BBC Sport.

“From each person you can add a little bit into yourself. In terms of technique but also in terms of your character.”

The UFC has seen fighters from 17 different nationalities win titles since it was founded 30 years ago.

With a huge variety of mixed martial arts disciplines practiced across the world, many fighters are exploring far and wide to further strengthen their skillset.

Shevchenko believes her adventures around the globe have also helped her to grow as a person.

“When you travel you can see the world is so different,” Shevchenko says.

“Here you live this way but other countries they live a completely different way and you start to appreciate more the way you are living, because you see that some people don’t have what you have.

“My rule is to always go where the local people go. Eat where local people eat, speak with people who live normal lives and I think this way you can really see the country.

“It helps you to respect and understand different cultures and religions. It’s amazing because I feel the more people that travel, they can become wiser and they aren’t going to judge others just because they think they are different.”

‘You can’t relax for one second’

Shevchenko’s glittering career makes her one of the best fighters in the world. She sits at number three in the UFC’s female pound-for-pound rankings and was selected alongside featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski to feature on the cover of the UFC’s computer game, UFC 5.

“I do play a video games a little bit, but seeing me playing and seeing me fighting – I’m definitely better at fighting,” Shevchenko said.

But for the first time in almost five years, Shevchenko steps into the octagon as the challenger when she faces UFC flyweight champion Alexa Grasso.

Valentina Shevchenko bows in front of the flag of Peru
Valentina Shevchenko is just the second woman – after Ronda Rousey – to appear on the cover of a UFC computer game

Shevchenko made her UFC debut in 2015 and has won 12 of her 15 UFC fights, losing to former two-weight champion Amanda Nunes twice before her recent defeat against Grasso, when she lost the flyweight title.

Mexico’s Grasso halted Shevchenko’s historic reign at UFC 285 in March.

Shevchenko had been champion since beating Joanna Jedrzejczyk for the vacant title in December 2018, becoming just the second woman to hold the belt after Nicco Montano.

After her record seven successful defences, the defeat by Grasso means Shevchenko embarks on a new chapter in her career in Las Vegas this weekend.

“My mentality has changed,” Shevchenko says.

“It’s a challenge, yes. I have to work out and fight like I never have before. I had an amazing training camp and in my mind I’m thinking I need to go there and destroy her to get my belt back.”

Grasso earned her shot at Shevchenko by winning four consecutive fights, but was regarded as a major underdog.

Shevchenko took the first three rounds on each of the three judges’ scorecards and seemed to be on track for another successful defence.

However, Grasso seized her moment late in round four when Shevchenko attempted a spinning back-kick. The Mexican stepped forward, attacked the back, secured a takedown, squeezed tightly across the face of Shevchenko and forced her to submit.

“I have watched the fight back and from round one to round four I was completely winning,” Shevchenko says.

“She [Grasso] had one or two successful punches that were caught on camera and everyone was thinking ‘oh my god’, just watching those shots.

“They weren’t watching the full fight – that’s not how it was.

“What went wrong? I can say it was MMA. Anything can happen, we are playing a dangerous game and you have to prepare to be ready for everything. You can’t relax for one second.”

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