By Shawn Buck (@buck4peace)
This Saturdays UFC on Fox 23 main event matchup between Valentina Shevchenko and Julianna Pena is a clash between the number 1 and number 2 ranked Women’s bantamweights in the world. The winner should undoubtedly be the next opponent of current champion Amanda Nunes. As dominant as Nunes has been recently, the winner of this fight could be the one to dethrone her. This weekends fight could be easily viewed as a championship in itself.
Shevchenko is a driven fighter who really wants to be the champion and if her first fight with Nunes had been five rounds, it may have happened. When she fought Nunes she was able to weather the storm of the heavy-handed Nunes and actually had her gassed in the third and final round. Shevchenko lost a unanimous decision in that fight. Nunes went on to get a title shot against Miesha Tate in her next fight and destroyed her in one round while Shevchenko fought against former champion Holly Holm in her next fight. Shevchenko defeated Holm in five rounds by unanimous decision. She was able to counter Holm often in that fight and also took Holm down a few times. She was good on that night and her performance gave her a right to a rematch with Nunes for the title.
Pena has been excellent since stepping on the UFC scene. After winning the first ever women’s The Ultimate Fighter challenge, she is 3-0. She puts relentless pressure on all her opponents. Her most recent win, at UFC 200, was against veteran Cat Zingano. Zingano has a victory over Nunes. Pena felt she also deserved a shot at the title after that victory. She didn’t get it. The champion waited on the return of Ronda Rousey. Nunes blasted Rousey in less than a minute and now here we are.
These two ladies are more than capable of beating Nunes for the title. Shevchenko already has given her a battle and Pena has dominated all of her UFC opponents. Nunes has looked great defeating both Tate and Rousey in one round. But Tate and Rousey had been at the top on the bantamweight division for some time. Tate recently retired after losing to Raquel Pennington and Rousey after losing the title to Holm was on the fence about coming back from that loss. It’s much harder to stay on top than it is to get there. Rousey has been in several commercials and appeared in major films. She has made a substantial amount of money through fighting and her outside endeavors. Not saying that Rousey and Tate weren’t that good but their hunger may not be as strong as it was earlier in their career. Former middleweight boxing champion Marvin Hagler summed it up by saying that it was tough to get out of bed to do road work at 5am when you’ve been sleeping in silk pajamas. Shevchenko and Pena have no problem getting motivated to train or fight. They want that gold belt around their waist. Nunes is still hungry also but hasn’t faced a fighter with that same desire since she fought Shevchenko in March of 2016. That will change if she faces the winner of Saturdays fight between Shevchenko and Nunes. This fight should be a good one. You may want to tune in because you could possibly be watching the next bantamweight world champion.