Though the flyweight division opened by way of the 26th season of The Ultimate Fighter at the end of 2017, Valentina Shevchenko soon moved down to 125 pounds and scored a dominant second-round submission win. At the time, Brendan Fitzgerald told the rest of the division to, “Say hello to your worst nightmare,” and those words proved prophetic.
After winning the belt over Joanna Jedrzejczyk in December 2018, Shevchenko tallied three defenses without any real adversity. When she knocked out Jessica Eye with one of the more stunning head kicks of 2019, Shevchenko respectfully said she would gladly take on every single person in the division’s top 15. She meant it as a compliment to the growing weight class, but it came with a low-key, savage message underneath: Shevchenko welcomes all challengers and, at the end, she expects to be the one left standing. That said, veterans and up-and-comers alike have started to distinguish themselves as the deserving “next up” for the champ.
Here’s a look at the women’s flyweight division:
More Divisional Breakdowns: Strawweight
Last Fight: TKO win vs Katlyn Chookagian (2/8/2020)
Next fight: vs Joanne Calderwood (TBD)
Outlook: Valentina Shevchenko has as good of a claim to the title of Best Mixed Martial Artist as anyone on the roster. Skill for skill, there might not be a more complete fighter in all of fighting. With two knockouts and one unanimous decision in three title defenses, Shevchenko hasn’t left any questions about her title reign. “Bullet” hasn’t expressed any intentions to make a trilogy fight with Amanda Nunes happen soon, but a camp of people feel like she won the second bout with the double-champ, and Shevchenko said she feels like the third fight will eventually happen. After Zhang Weili’s all-time war with Jedrzejczyk, some buzz for a bout between the strawweight and flyweight champs gained some steam, but Shevchenko made it known that she felt Jedrzejczyk deserved the win. Back in the 125-pound division, though, Shevchenko has a date with another veteran contender in Joanne Calderwood, and as Shevchenko always says, every fight is the most important one, so there’s little doubt she’ll approach things against Calderwood any differently.
Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Win vs Viviane Araujo (12/14/2019)
Next fight: N/A
Outlook: In her five fights back down at her natural weight class, Jessica Eye only dropped her title challenge against Valentina Shevchenko in 2019. She got back into her groove with a unanimous decision over Vivane Araujo although Eye did miss weight. After leaving her longtime gym StrongStyle in Ohio, Eye found a new home in Las Vegas with Xtreme Couture and the UFC Performance Institute. The Cleveland-native proves a tough out for anyone at 125 pounds and likely stands as one of the people to get through if someone wants a shot at the crown.
Last Fight: TKO Loss vs Valentina Shevchenko (2/8/2020)
Next fight: N/A
Outlook: The fighter known as the “Blonde Fighter” was the latest to fall to Valentina Shevchenko in her title shot at UFC 247. Before that, however, she racked up impressive wins over Irene Aldana (at bantamweight), Joanne Calderwood and Jennifer Maia. Like Eye, Chookagian is one of the more consistent performers in the division and is a tough opponent for anyone hoping to climb the ladder. In terms of what’s next, her path is similar to Eye’s in that both were finished by Shevchenko, and it’ll likely take a handful of impressive wins before getting a chance to go for gold once again.
Last Fight: Split Decision Win vs Andrea Lee (9/7/2019)
Next fight: vs Valentina Shevchenko (TBD)
Outlook: A fan favorite, “JoJo” seemed bound for a title shot when she took on Katlyn Chookagian at UFC 238. She ended up on the wrong side of a unanimous decision despite a good performance, and her timeline was set back as Chookagian went on to eventually challenge for the belt. Calderwood bounced back with a hard-fought split decision victory against Andrea Lee at UFC 242. Calderwood found a home both at 125 pounds and in Las Vegas. Since she started training at Syndicate, as well as the UFC Performance Institute, the Scot’s career gained plenty of life and steam and has culminated in a title shot against Shevchenko once the champion is fully recovered from your leg injury.
Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Loss vs Katlyn Chookagian (11/2/2019)
Next fight: N/A
Outlook: Since making her promotional debut in July 2018, it’s been some uneven sledding for the former Invicta FC flyweight champion. She picked up back-to-back decision wins over Alexis Davis and Roxanne Modafferi, but she missed weight against Modafferi and then again in her most recent bout with Katlyn Chookagian, a unanimous decision loss at UFC 244. Missing weight in consecutive fights makes for a muddier picture moving forward for Maia. She probably needs to stack up some wins and prove the scale isn’t a problem before she can make a real run at the belt, but if she can regain the form that saw her riding into the Octagon on a six-fight winning streak, it’s a real possibility.
Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Win vs Maycee Barber (1/18/2020)
Next fight: N/A
Outlook: “The Happy Warrior” proved she is much more than a steppingstone for up-and-coming prospects when she halted the streaking Maycee Barber at UFC 246. Although Barber suffered a knee injury that impacted her ability, Modafferi was doing more than well in the first round, utilizing an improved standup game and flowing well on the ground. One of the most experienced women on the roster, the 37-year-old looked better than ever in her last outing. She also made a good point that, although she split her last six fights, she has won her last three fights in which her opponent made weight (the one loss being to Nicco Montano for the flyweight belt). Modafferi is much more dangerous than her demeanor would lend one to believe, and time and time again, she’s keen on proving just that.
Outlook: Heading into 2020, the buzz around Maycee Barber was nearly inescapable. To that point, she was undefeated, confident and able to back it up once she got into the Octagon. Then, as mentioned before, she suffered a torn ACL in her first career loss, knocking her out until at least the fall. Meanwhile, Lauren Murphy is coming off a pair of solid wins over Andrea Lee and Mara Romero Borella. The 36-year-old is 3-1 since moving down to flyweight and has the kind of toughness in a fight that makes life miserable for her opponent. Lee, on the other hand, seemed in a groove, winning her first three UFC bouts. After losing a close split decision to Joanne Calderwood, she fell in a razor-close split decision to Lauren Murphy. Even so, Lee continues to improve and seems just around the corner from threatening the top of the division.
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