Top-ranked women's Bantamweight contenders Amanda Nunes (No. 4) and Valentina Shevchenko (No. 10) locked cornrows earlier this evening (Sat., March 5, 2016), kicking off the UFC 196 pay-per-view (PPV) main card action from inside MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
It was a pivotal 135-pound showdown, with the winner earning serious consideration as a possible next title challenger if former champion, Ronda Rousey, delays her return to the Octagon further. And it was ultimately Nunes who rose to the occasion, scoring a unanimous decision win over what can only be described as a slow-starting, gritty Shevchenko.
Both fighters danced around each other to start the match, looking to establish range in the initial feeling-out process. Nunes got on the board first with a high kick, which Shevchenko was able to partially block. Nunes then continued to fired low kicks as Shevchenko looked to time a counter, which she did with a straight left hand, sending Nunes back on her heels. Nunes was undeterred, though, continuing to fire the low kick in an effort to punish her opponent. Shevchenko, frustrated, leaped in with a left cross and then a right cross, both of which missed their marks. With about 45 seconds remaining in the opening frame, Nunes scored a takedown and landed two nice shots to the grounded Shevchenko as the round came to a close.
Shevchenko came out in the second with a stiff jab as Nunes responded with a straight kick to the gut. Nunes blasted her with another kick to the body shortly thereafter, which Shevchenko caught and tried to use for a takedown, but the Brazilian was able to reverse position and get on top after a quick scramble. Nunes soon began to slam home hard elbows and hammerfists while in side guard as Shevchenko struggled to protect herself. Shevchenko bucked and kicked, but Nunes didn't budge, continuing to land skin-splitting elbows with impunity. Nunes pinned her arm down, reared back and continued to just smash Shevchenko, whose face was a bloody mess. Nunes was able to eventually take her back and slide her forearm under her chin as blood squirted from her battered face. Shevchenko was able to squirm out of serious danger, barely, and was eventually saved by the bell.
Despite the damage, Shevchenko came out looking good for the third and final round. In fact, she landed a nice short elbow early and was able to muscle Nunes down to the canvas. Shevchenko was able to land a few nice, short shots before Nunes was able to kick her off. Back on the feet Shevchenko -- a Muay Thai champion -- landed several solid knees to the face of Nunes while in the clinch. Shevchenko continued to attack, landing several nice shots as Nunes defended a takedown in the center of the Octagon. Nunes was seriously fatigued in the final round, just as Shevchenko was beginning to find her rhythm. But, in the end, it was a case of too little, too late, as Nunes took the first two rounds to earn a unanimous decision.
Shevchenko showed some great heart and toughness, but it appears Nunes is in the running for future title shot consideration after scoring her fifth win inside the Octagon and third straight.
For complete results from UFC 196: "McGregor vs. Diaz," including play-by-play updates, click here and here.