01 Jan Valentina Shevchenko knows she’s a massive favorite to beat Jennifer Maia but odds don’t determine outcomes
Valentina Shevchenko knows she’s supposed to win her fight at UFC 255.
Ahead of her showdown with Jennifer Maia on Saturday night, the reigning and defending flyweight champion has jumped as high as an 18-to-1 favorite according to some odds makers. This isn’t exactly new territory for her as Shevchenko has been overwhelmingly favored to win all of her fights at 125 pounds, especially since becoming champion.
That’s why the majority of questions that she fields in the days and weeks leading up to an event typically center around an eventual trilogy against Amanda Nunes or perhaps a super fight with strawweight champion Zhang Weili because on paper, Shevchenko doesn’t seem to have any equals at flyweight.
Considering Maia is just 3-2 in the UFC with her two losses coming to opponents who Shevchenko vanquished with relative ease, it’s understandable why the odds are on her side. That said, Shevchenko will be the last person to tell anybody that she’s just going to walk through Maia because the first time she underestimates an opponent might be the last time she holds the UFC title she covets so much.
“Because it’s MMA,” Shevchenko explained when speaking to MMA Fighting. “I’m in this sport for such a long time. I competed in different martial arts. I know how things happen. I know how things work. It’s like sometimes when people are just having two years competing, they don’t know what’s going to happen or they’re going to stay champion forever. This does not happen. This is the life. You have real opponents. You have a real person who wants to beat you.
“That’s why you have your head very cold in making decisions. Not having your head in the clouds flying over the Earth. You have to be realistic and understand how things are working. My experience in martial arts taught me how I have to be. What kind of person I have to be to maintain my status as champion.”
Maia earned her shot at one of the most dominant champions in UFC history by pulling off a submission over Joanne Calderwood, who was originally scheduled to face Shevchenko earlier this year.
Unfortunately, Shevchenko had to undergo surgery on an injured knee that kept her sidelined longer than expected and Calderwood opted to stay active by booking the fight with Maia. In the end, the Brazilian tapped her out in the opening round and now she’ll get the chance to face Shevchenko instead.
“I think she’s a very good opponent,” Shevchenko said about Maia. “She is a former Invicta champion. She fought a lot and she’s preparing as good as she can. I think it’s going to be a good fight, she’s a good opponent. It was a good fight with Jojo, she had her chance for the armbar and she never let it go. It’s good. This is what fighters have to do, never let the opportunity go.
“I think it’s going to be a very good. I think of her more of a striker, she prefers striking but that doesn’t mean she isn’t going to use her wrestling or clinching. I love this.”
On paper it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Shevchenko doesn’t retain her title on Saturday night but the fights don’t always play out the way things are supposed to happen.
Ronda Rousey was supposed to beat Holly Holm.
Georges St-Pierre was supposed to demolish Matt Serra in their first encounter.
Results just like those are a less-than-subtle reminder to Shevchenko to never look past any opponent, even the ones she’s supposed to beat.
“As a fighter, I respect them all,” Shevchenko said. “Like all girls, not just flyweight but strawweight, bantamweight, any weight, who are fighters and practice martial arts. Because it’s very hard work. It’s not just training and OK I’m going to fight five minutes for five rounds. It’s a lot of mental work. A lot of physical work. I respect all people, all girls who have this courage, this power to do this work. I know how hard it is.
“You have to treat everyone with a lot of respect. It’s a fight. Anything can happen but as a champion, as myself as a person, I’m not going to let it happen just accidentally. I’m going to be ready for everything. That’s why I’m champion because I understand how things are working.”