The pound-for-pound best female fighter on the planet, Flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko, was back at work inside the Octagon at UFC 275 tonight (Sat., June 11, 2022), taking on Contender Series veteran and No. 5-seeded division contender, Taila Santos, inside Singapore Indoor Stadium in Kallang, Singapore.
Unsurprisingly, Shevchenko was the biggest favorite on the entire pay-per-view (PPV) card; however, it took her way longer than usual to prove the reason, surviving an early scare en route to a super close split decision win (watch highlights here).
Shevchenko opened up the action with some low kicks, standing in the center of the Octagon and waiting for Santos to come get some. And she tried, but Shevchenko drilled her with a hard counter shot early. Spinning back kick from Shevchenko missed, with Santos charging in before she could get her balance, pushing her up against the cage. Shevchenko, though, quickly reversed along the cage, peppering her with knees in the clinch, as well as shoulder strikes to the face. Shevchenko slipped on a takedown attempt and Santos took full advantage, getting her back and angling for a rear-naked choke. She was able to get a hard cross face, with a tight body triangle, as Shevchenko punched her in the face with reverse shots. Shevchenko actually landed some real hard shots behind her, doing more damage than Santos was able trying for the submission. Surprising close to the first round, with Santos taking full advantage of a rare Shevchenko mistake.
Shevchenko opened up round two with a nice combination upstairs, followed by a hard leg kick. The pair soon tie up along the cage. with Santos looking to snatch a single-leg takedown on the fence. Santos was eventually able to trip her and her tp the ground, landing in full guard as Shevchenko defended well off her back. She actually almost pulled off a gogoplata, but Santos was able to wriggle free. Hard elbows from Shevchenko, who is still on the bottom, doing more work as Santos is content just to demonstrate control. And with 90 seconds remaining, the referee stood them back up, which certainly favored Shevchenko. She scored a big throw, but in the scramble, Santos once again ended up in dominant position ... but didn’t do anything from the top. Shevchenko is doing way more damage, but Santos is getting in much better positions.
Shevchenko, perhaps actually down two rounds, definitely needs to start turning it on here. She appeared to have a little more pep in her step, perhaps realizing that the judges could be in control. Santos missed on a big overhand right, which Shevchenko used for a trip takedown, but the Brazilian popped off the canvas like a slice of toast. Santos initiated the clinch moments later, pushing Shevchenko up against the cage and trying to get it back to the floor. Shevchenko peppered her with knees and rabbit shots until Santos finally got the takedown and was able to backpack “Bullet,” then rolled so her back was against the cage. Santos, in a sitting position, dug her forearm under Shevchenko’s chin and looked for another rear-naked choke, but it was too high. Shevchenko started to turn into it, but the round was over ... another strong round for the unlikely challenger.
Championship rounds, and the champion was likely down two rounds, possibly three — certainly uncharted Flyweight territory. Shevchenko came out swinging and Santos was bleeding almost immediately, her eye swollen shut after an inadvertent head clash. The action was stopped moment later, though, for a shot the referee deemed too low. Big overhand left from Shevchenko, right on the left eye that was sealed shut from the head clash. More left side from Shevchenko, who knows her opponent is essentially blind on that side. Shevchenko missed with a Superman punch, then a kick, as Santos looked to be falling apart late. Santos staying busy just to keep Shevchenko off her, landing a counter left, but the tide certainly seems to have turned. Combination from Shevchenko just grazes Santos, who kept her off balance with a kick. She was able to score a takedown at the bell, but that was clearly Shevchenko’s best round of the fight.
It could be even or Shevchenko could be down 3-1, so it was imperative that “Bullet” put on a masterclass to avoid the uncertainty. She started with a hard body kick, then a combination upstairs, with Santos diving in for a desperate takedown ... and getting it! Shevchenko got out quick this time though, with three minutes remaining, and stunned Santos with a hard shot. Shevchenko dove in for her own takedown in the center of the cage and got it. She tried to improve her position, but was stuck in half-guard, not doing much damage. She seemed content to hold the position, even though potentially down on the scorecards — it was a close fight no doubt. She jumped to side control, perhaps going for an arm-triangle, but Santos continued to fight off her back. And that’s where the fight stayed until the bell sounded.
Not really sure where “Bullet” goes from here. Santos put on a heck of a performance, getting Shevchenko in some tough positions, but she was more opportunistic with her counter scrambling than anything else.
It probably deserves a rematch because the other options are thin. She could settle for the Katlyn Chookagian vs. Manrot Fiorot winner, a bout scheduled for UFC Paris on Sept. 3, 2022. But, Shevchenko will more than likely steamroll both ladies on the same night if given the chance, so hopefully the promotion comes up with a bigger, more challenging opponent moving forward.
If not an immediate Santos rematch, perhaps even another run at the women’s Bantamweight crown, held now by Julianna Pena, who “Bullet” already dismantled back in 2017.
Let Santos fight for the interim belt.
Final result: Shevchenko def. Santos via split decision (watch highlights)
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