Shevchenko, Je­drze­jczyk meet for UFC fly­weight belt

Sun.Star Baguio - - Opinion -

LOS AN­GE­LES — Valentina Shevchenko and Joanna Je­drze­jczyk were teenagers when they first fought at the muay Thai world cham­pi­onships in 2006.

They met again in 2007 and 2008. Shevchenko won ev­ery time.

A decade later, the fighters are meet­ing once again Satur­day night, this time un­der the big­ger, brighter spot­light of mixed martial arts at UFC 231.

Shevchenko won’t go into this high-pro­file fly­weight ti­tle fight with any false con­fi­dence, not af­ter ev­ery­thing Je­drze­jczyk has ac­com­plished since their first bouts. Yet Shevchenko still thinks those long-ago re­sults will make a dif­fer­ence in the oc­tagon in Toronto.

“She can say that it’s not af­fect­ing her, but yes, it’s af­fect­ing her,” Shevchenko said. “Fighters can say what­ever, but what they’re feel­ing in­side, it’s to­tally dif­fer­ent. It’s af­fect­ing ev­ery­one, for sure. Of course it was years ago. Of course she changed and im­proved as a fighter, same as me. All ex­pe­ri­ence will help, and each ex­pe­ri­ence I got from that fight will help me in this fight.”

The rekin­dling of this long-stand­ing ri­valry could be ex­actly what the UFC needs in the women’s fly­weight divi­sion, which has been in up­heaval pretty much ever since it opened last year. Shevchenko is ea­ger to es­tab­lish or­der among the world’s best 125pounders while earn­ing the UFC belt that has long eluded her.

To get it, Shevchenko (15-3) still has to get through Je­drze­jczyk (15-2), the for­mer strawweight cham­pion mov­ing up to claim a sec­ond ti­tle.

Shevchenko re­al­izes the dif­fi­culty of her task, but she can also see her ul­ti­mate goal is just five rounds away.

“No one else can pre­tend to be the best here, be­cause this is my weight,” Shevchenko said. “This is my divi­sion. This is my place.”

Shevchenko has been look­ing for her place all her life.

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