Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Bantamweight finishers Amanda Nunes and Valentina Shevchenko will throw down this Saturday (March 5, 2016) at UFC 196 inside MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Winning four of her five Octagon fights, Nunes has been looking like a killer. "Lioness" has finished each of those wins inside the first round, making it a habit to blitz through her foes and ignore their attempts to defend.
Shevchenko is one of the most credentialed strikers in women's MMA, as she has a deep background in Muay Thai. That skill allowed her to pull off a major upset in her short-notice debut, and she's now looking to build that win into a title run.
Let's take a look at the keys to victory for each fighter:
Key Wins: Sara McMann (UFC Fight Night 73), Germaine de Randamie (UFC Fight for the Troops 3), Shayna Baszler (UFC Fight Night 62)
Key Losses: Cat Zingano (UFC 178), Sarah D'Alelio (Invicta FC 4), Alexis Davis (Strikeforce: Barnett vs Kharitonov)
Keys to Victory: Nunes is a very dominant and overwhelming fighter. Unlike many of her peers, Nunes is capable of quickly finishing the fight via TKO or submission, and she takes advantage of that physicality by smashing her opponents immediately.
Frankly, that's the best path to success opposite Shevchenko.
Judging by Shevchenko's last performance and background, Nunes does not have the technical skill to outwork Shevchenko for a long period of time. Besides, Nunes' conditioning has never been her best aspect, as she either finishes early or goes on to lose.
It's all or nothing for "Lioness."
Luckily, that may just work here. Shevchenko showed herself to be more than willing to fight in the clinch, and that's an area in which Nunes thrives. If the Brazilian is able to force her opponent to the mat -- something she's done with reasonably consistency in the early portions of her fights -- Nunes is in great position to finish or do serious damage.
Shevchenko may have all the experience on the feet and in clinch exchanges, but it's pretty unlikely she's also defensively skilled enough from her back to survive Nunes. If Nunes can land an early takedown and work into a dominant position, another quick finish seems rather likely.
Key Wins: Sarah Kaufman (UFC on FOX 17), Jan Finney (LFC 39)
Key Losses: Liz Carmouche (C3 Fights)
Keys to Victory: Shevchenko is a former kickboxing and Muay Thai champion who's been training in martial arts since childhood. Despite having nearly 60 fights in those arts and a dozen in professional MMA, Shevchenko is still just 27 years old.
She's also finished nine of her victories.
In this bout, Shevchenko needs to make the most of all her experience. In her days as a kickboxer, she surely faced an opponent who started quick, was dangerous, and then faded. Since Shevchenko only lost two of her 58 total fights, it's also a pretty safe bet that she beat that opponent.
Basically, the key here for Shevchenko is to remain calm and stay defensively tight. That doesn't mean stay in a shell, as Shevchenko should look to use her kicks to keep Nunes away or her clinch work to nullify Nunes' attempts to swing heavy.
As long as Shevchenko avoids taking any major risks -- such as looking for a head and arm throw in the clinch early on -- she should be able to stay off her back and avoid her foe's haymakers. Before long, Nunes will begin to slow down, and Shevchenko will have the opportunity to take over.
Bottom Line: With Ronda Rousey out for an unknown length of time, this fight could likely determine the next challenger to the title.
Such an aggressive finisher like Nunes is fairly rare for the women's Bantamweight division, and it helps her stand out. A win here only makes it three in a row for the Brazilian, but three straight finishes -- and Nunes only wins via finish -- is likely enough to earn Nunes a title opportunity.
However, another setback does slow those hopes. Nunes finally overcame the hill of beating a true top 10 fighter in her last performance, but she's lost her other opportunities. If she continues to come up short in bouts like this one, it may show that her game simply won't find consistent success at this level.
Shevchenko looked incredible in her debut. On eight days notice, she utterly picked apart and controlled one of the division's top fighters and veterans. If she can follow that up with another strong performance, there's no doubt that "Bullet" is a title contender.
At the same time, Shevchenko is still something of an unknown quality. If she comes up short here, it may reveal a weakness to her game that we don't yet know of, which could affect her status as a potential title challenger.
At UFC 196, Amanda Nunes and Valentina Shevchenko will open the main card in a pivotal battle. Which woman will have her hand raised?