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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down Noche UFC’s Valentina Shevchenko

Muay Thai ace, Valentina Shevchenko, will look to retake her throne opposite pugilistic talent, Alexa Grasso, this Saturday (Sept. 16, 2023) at Noche UFC inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Shevchenko has always been a model of efficiency, a striker who makes use of a handful of weapons to take apart her foes ruthlessly. She’s never overwhelmed her foes with volume. It’s all about precision, and she’s even judicious with her usage of feints and footwork! She’s famous for this assassin-like approach to combat. Her last two fights, however, have revealed another side to that narrative. Shevchenko nearly gave her title away by attempting head-and-arm throws repeatedly, then she finally paid for a lazy spinning back kick when Grasso strangled her. Why is “Bullet” so enamored with these low-percentage techniques? It’s an interesting and unexpected wrinkle.

Let’s take a closer look at her skill set:

UFC 266: Shevchenko v Murphy Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC


A multiple-time K-1 and Muay Thai champion, Shevchenko has one of the most ridiculous lists of accomplishments in martial arts that you’ll ever find on a UFC fighter. In the cage, however, the Southpaw makes use of a consistent strategy and precise distance management.

She’s one of the most pure counter strikers in the sport. Shevchenko stays very light on her feet, ready to counter, and waits for her opponent to move. As she proved opposite Holly Holm and in the Nunes rematch, Shevchenko will wait ... and wait ... and wait if need be.

Since moving down to Flyweight, Shevchenko has taken a bit more initiative (GIF). She’s not jumping forward with combinations, but Shevchenko will stick her opponent with a quick jab. Notably, the jab was her most damaging weapon in the first fight versus Grasso, as it served well to interrupt her combinations and keep the fight out of the pocket. Otherwise, the Superman punch to right outside low kick is the classic Shevchenko combo when advancing.

Her kicks are very effective at distance as well, a safe way for Shevchenko to do real damage. Against Jessica Eye, a few ripped body kicks and a nice angle change were all it required for the head kick to find a home (GIF).

Once her opponent moves forward, Shevchenko is in her wheelhouse. Often, she’ll take advantage of her light footwork and skip backward, just out of her opponent’s range. At this point, she’ll fire off her favored check right hook, her go-to counter punch. While throwing the right hook, Shevchenko can also angle off and set herself up for a hard body kick. The check hook is a near constant weapon for the kickboxer.

Grasso answered Shevchenko’s countering style smartly. She feinted actively and pressured consistently, always doing her best to work Shevchenko to the fence. Without the ability to withdraw, Shevchenko struggled in more extended exchanges, which have never been her strength.

Shevchenko is very skilled at countering kicks. If her opponent throws a kick to the body or head without setup — which isn’t uncommon if her opponent is fighting Orthodox — Shevchenko will spring forward and fire off either a left cross or her usual counter hook. Either way, it’s an effective tactic, as her opponent is not in position to absorb or counter a punch. Opposite Holm — who maintained more distance — Shevchenko instead countered with low kicks, blocking or checking her foes kick before returning with one of her own.

Additionally, one of the most unique traits I’ve seen in Shevchenko is her habit of countering outside low kicks — again, a common tactic for an Orthodox fighter taking on a Southpaw — with spins. Against Sarah Kaufman, Shevchenko utilized both spinning kicks and spinning punches to punish her opponent’s quick low kick attempts (GIF).

As a counter puncher, Shevchenko is quite hard to hit cleanly. Part of that is due to her excellent habit of waiting for her opponent to engage before smothering their attempted offense in the clinch. Ducking down, Shevchenko will step towards her foe and look to grab the head and an underhook. Similarly, when she relies on her check hook, Shevchenko does well to get her head off the center line.

Once in the clinch, Shevchenko is a very effective striker. She does an excellent job of using head position to turn her opponent and force her into the fence. After securing the position Shevchenko will attack with hard elbows and knees. It’s a really strong area for “Bullet,” as she breaks her opponent down quickly from in-close.

When it works, Shevchenko’s kickboxing is a picture of efficiency. There is little wasted movement or complicated setups. Shevchenko simply manages distance so perfectly that her opponents are rarely able to land hard shots. They’re much more likely to run into her check hook, clinch, or left kick when they try.

Grasso proved the exception, but it took smart game planning and a lot of boxing skill to pull it off ... and it still wasn’t easy!

UFC 266: Shevchenko v Murphy Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC


A Judo black belt, Shevchenko has really proven her wrestling skill since dropping down to Flyweight. She held her own with the larger women of Bantamweight, but she’s simply dominating the clinch at 125 pounds.

First and foremost, Shevchenko’s excellent timing from decades of fighting as a counter striker has proven a wonderful asset for setting up takedowns. Very often, Shevchenko times her entry on the hips perfectly and is able to secure a tight body lock. From that position, it’s easy to overpower her foe to the mat.

In another example of masterful timing, Shevchenko twice swept a larger woman to the mat in precisely the same fashion opposite Julianna Pena. As Pena looked to force Shevchenko into the fence and land knees, “Bullet” waited for her opportunity. As Pena lifted a leg to knee, Shevchenko simultaneously grabbed that leg and swept out the base foot (GIF).

When she first secures the clinch, Shevchenko will usually attempt to finish the body lock or sweep out the foot. Often, her opponent will push her hips back, which can create an opening for the both the inside trip and headlock throw (GIF). If one fails, Shevchenko can quickly transition to the other.

The headlock throw must be addressed. On one hand, Shevchenko’s form on the throw is very nice, far better than the majority of her peers. She clamps on the head and arm well, and she steps across the body with good form. I wrote a whole article on this, but the bottom line is that the headlock throw is left in Junior High for a reason! It’s a bad move. Even when it works, it’s highly reversible and can easily result in the thrown fighter taking the back, because the attacking fighter does not land with the far side underhook.

UFC 261: Shevchenko v Andrade Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Shevchenko’s bottom game was something of a liability in her early UFC career, but she’s quickly developed that aspect of her game as well. Julianna Pena is a very solid grappler, one who tends to dominate fights from top position with her strength and grit. However, Shevchenko was patient, capitalizing on her opponent’s focus on ground striking to isolate an arm and pull it across her waist. Once Nunes’ arm was across her body, it was in perfect position for Shevchenko to swivel and attack the arm bar. It was textbook, and Shevchenko’s ability to maintain the position and pressure throughout the roll was impressive as well (GIF).

At Flyweight, Shevchenko has been more able to control her foes. As a result, she’s shown more offense. Her favorite position on the floor is the topside crucifix, which ended both Jessica Andrade and Katlyn Chookagian’s Flyweight title dreams. As Shevchenko passes guard, she’s always looking to counter her opponent’s frames by pinning their wrist to the floor, at which point she can staple the arm to the canvas by sitting on it with her shin.

Against Cachoeira, the rear naked choke was more of a mercy hold than anything else. Shevchenko had already thoroughly pulverized her outmatched foe to the point that a stoppage seemed imminent, but Cachoeira ultimately turned her back and gave up the choke instead.

UFC 247 Jones v Reyes Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images


Prior to the sudden finish, Grasso vs. Shevchenko was an excellent, competitive fight. “Bullet” found real success with her jab and takedowns, but it’s going to take a serious effort to dethrone her younger foe. There’s no room for error or mishaps in the form of bad decisions — she has to execute perfectly to leave as champion.

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Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.

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