Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) bantamweight contenders Holly Holm and Valentina Shevchenko will clash TONIGHT (July 23, 2016) at UFC on FOX 20 inside United Center in Chicago, Illinois.
After capturing the UFC title in less than a year, Holm was expected to dominate in her next title defense. However, Holm wound up on the wrong side off a fantastic comeback, and now she’s looking to get back to the strap.
Shevchenko’s background and rise is actually rather similar. A massively accomplished striker outside of MMA, "Bullet" made a stellar debut to earn a position in the top 10 and is already fighting in a second title eliminator match up just eight months into her UFC career.
Let’s take a look at the keys to victory for both athletes:
Key Wins: Ronda Rousey (UFC 193), Raquel Pennington (UFC 184), Marion Reneau (UFC Fight Night 71)
Key Losses: Miesha Tate (UFC 196)
Keys to Victory: A former boxing world champion with plenty of kicking experience as well, Holm managed to become the first and only woman to defeat Ronda Rousey thanks to her world-class skill set and ability to follow a game plan. Opposite another very talented striker in Shevchenko, she'll have to do the same here.
Overall, this is very much a match up between counter strikers. Holm is more willing to lead than Shevchenko, but both women would rather catch their foe coming in than take a chance with their own combination.
In short, that means this fight could very likely turn into a staring contest.
To avoid that result or worse, Holm needs to capitalize on her size and conditioning. She's a fair bit taller and longer than the Russian, and Holm knows how to make her length count. If she's working from the outside with long kicks and punches — notably the jab, which will be especially important for both Southpaws — there shouldn't be many counter opportunities for Shevchenko.
By working diligently from the outside, Holm can rank up points and force Shevchenko to go on the offensive, which is not her preferred style. Additionally, it's a strategy that should carry the fight into later rounds, where Holm is proven to only grow stronger.
Key Wins: Sarah Kaufman (UFC on FOX 17), Jan Finney (LFC 39)
Key Losses: Amanda Nunes (UFC 196), Liz Carmouche (C3 Fights)
Keys to Victory: A kickboxing and Muay Thai champion with almost 60 professional bouts on her record, Shevchenko has shown serious flashes of brilliance in her short UFC career thus far. She's very dangerous both from the kickboxing range, where she's a tremendous counter striker, and from within the clinch with rugged elbows and knees.
In this bout, Shevchenko faces an interesting style match up in one of the few women who won't look to take her down. In fact, Shevchenko mixes clinch takedowns into her game fluidly, so it may be the Russian who looks to take this fight South.
To defeat Holm, Shevchenko needs to be the more effective kicker. Holm likes to briefly exchange with punches and kick combinations before frustrating her opponents with movement. During those exchanges, Shevchenko has to use her counter fighting experience to land the harder shots.
If Shevchenko can land the hard blows when Holm tries to score points, the pressure shifts onto Holm to get more aggressive. Should that happen, Shevchenko will find more counter opportunities.
Alternatively, she could look to catch Holm in a clinch when the boxer bounces into her strikes. At that range, Shevchenko is far more skilled with her strikes and sudden takedowns.
Bottom Line: This is a potential title eliminator.
Holm was far ahead on the scorecards prior to Miesha Tate’s fifth round rally. Even if Tate did hold the belt still, "The Preacher’s Daughter" would be worthy of a rematch. With Nunes holding the strap, there’s little doubt that Holm will receive a title shot with a win.
Barring, of course, a Ronda Rousey sighting.
That said, a loss would set Holm back pretty significantly. The Rousey head kick is a tremendous win, but it’s her only top 10 victory. If she loses a second fight in a row, she may need to fight someone outside of the elite.
This is a very important bout for Shevchenko as well. A win over Holm definitely sets her up for a rematch with "The Lioness," which could play out very different over 25 minutes.
However, like Holm, Shevchenko doesn’t have many major victories inside the UFC. If she comes up short here, Shevchenko will need to go on an actual win streak before getting back into the title picture.
TONIGHT at UFC on FOX 20, Holly Holm and Valentia Shevchenko will face off in the main event. Which woman will have her hand raised?