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UFC 266 card: Valentina Shevchenko vs Lauren Murphy full fight preview

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) women’s Flyweight elites Valentina Shevchenko and Lauren Murphy will collide this weekend (Sat., Sept. 25, 2021) at UFC 266 inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Shevchenko is a conundrum in more ways than one. First and foremost, she has been absolutely untouchable inside the Octagon against women her size, rarely struggling to win an exchange let alone an actual fight. Combine her dominance with an underdeveloped division, and Shevchenko is quickly running out of opponents.

The solution seems to be to line up whoever’s willing for the slaughter.

Of course, someone, some day will eventually upset the champion, and why not Lauren Murphy? The 38-year-old veteran is as tough as they come, and she’s surely going to take the fight to the counter fighting specialist.

Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each woman:

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BLOCKBUSTER BANTAMWEIGHT BATTLE! Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to Newark, N.J., for the first time in more than three years on Sat., May 6, 2023, with a blockbuster Bantamweight collision inside Prudential Center that will see Aljamain Sterling attempt another successful title defense against returning two-division titleholder and former gold medal-winning Olympic wrestler, Henry Cejudo. In UFC 288’s last-minute pay-per-view (PPV) co-main event, former Welterweight title challenger, Gilbert Burns, locks horns with No. 4-seeded contender, Belal Muhammad, in a five-round, 170-pound No. 1 contender eliminator match.

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Valentina Shevchenko

Record: 20-3
Key Wins: Joanna Jedrzejczyk (UFC 231), Jessica Andrade (UFC 261), Holly Holm (UFC on FOX 20), Katlyn Chookagian (UFC 247), Liz Carmouche (UFC Fight Night 157), Julianna Pena (UFC on FOX 23)
Key Losses: Amanda Nunes (UFC 215, UFC 196)
Keys to Victory: Shevchenko is about as good as it gets. “Bullet” has damn-near three decades of martial arts experience, resulting in a fighter who is exceptionally strong in every area. Add in the fact that she’s a tremendous athlete, and it’s easy to understand why her opponents struggle so fruitlessly.

Look, I don’t want to insult anyone’s intelligence by overanalyzing Shevchenko’s path to victory. Based on all that these two women have demonstrated, Shevchenko can pretty much choose whether to pick her opponent apart at range or demonstrate her clinch/ground striking expertise.

Personally, I’d say go with the kickboxing. Murphy is physically strong and generally prefers to grapple, so why play into her strengths at all? Plus, Shevchenko’s range kicks and precise counters should match up perfectly with Murphy’s straightforward aggression, as “Lucky” is likely to give Shevchenko all the opportunities needed to connect on huge shots.

If things get hairy with either strategy, try the other!

Lauren Murphy

Record: 15-4
Key Wins: Joanne Calderwood (UFC 263), Roxanne Modafferi (UFC on ESPN 11), Andrea Lee (UFC 247), Mara Romero Borella (UFC on ESPN 5)
Key Losses: Sijara Eubanks (UFC Fight Night 131), Katlyn Chookagian (UFC Fight Night 91)
Keys to Victory: Dropping down to 125 pounds really changed Murphy’s career dramatically. She was always tough at Bantamweight, but against more similarly sized foes, Murphy’s strength and gas tank have proven the deciding factors in otherwise competitive battles.

I do believe it is time for Murphy to channel her inner Randy Couture. At this point, the only strategy that has resulted in even a bit of success opposite Shevchenko (for anyone outside of Amanda Nunes at least) is clinch work. Of course, this strategy is complicated by the fact that Shevchenko is really good at tossing her opponents from the clinch.

That’s why dirty boxing may be a better strategy than wrestling. When fighters pursue the takedown from the clinch, they often leave their hips exposed as they lean over, which results in the trips and throws that Shevchenko does so well. If, however, Murphy keeps her base beneath her and instead focuses on driving her forehead into Shevchenko’s jaw, those takedowns should be trickier. Instead, Murphy can focus on maintaining the grind, punching the body, and making use of her physicality.

Making it ugly is the only hope of upsetting a technician like the champion.

Bottom Line

Well ... it’s another women’s Flyweight title fight.

This is a divisive opinion, but I like watch Shevchenko demonstrate her martial arts mastery. Often, her fights look less like competitions and more like demonstrations. The general lack of challenge may turn off some fans, but for the co-main event slot, this type of display is appropriate.

Another win here builds upon Shevchenko’s legacy, and perhaps it moves her closer to that Nunes trilogy. If not, someone else will get the push four-to-six months from now, and we’ll be in this same situation.

Obviously, the stakes are different for Murphy. She has a chance to be the woman who dethroned Valentina Shevchenko! Immediately, that victory changes her life and legacy. An instant rematch would almost certainly be booked, but that does not matter — history would be made.

Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 266 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPNEWS/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC 266: “Volkanovski vs. Ortega” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

At UFC 266, Valentina Shevchenko and Lauren Murphy will duel in the co-main event. Which woman will earn the victory?

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