MMA Junkie analyst Dan Tom breaks down the UFC’s top bouts. Today, we look at one of three featured title fights for UFC 261.
UFC 261 takes place Saturday at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla. The main card airs on pay-per-view following prelims on ESPN and early prelims on ESPN+.
Valentina Shevchenko (20-3 MMA, 9-2 UFC)
Height: 5’5″ Age: 33 Weight: 125 lbs. Reach: 67″
Last fight: Decision win over Jennifer Maia (Nov. 21, 2020)
Camp: UFC Performance Institute (Las Vegas, NV)
Stance/striking style: Southpaw/muay Thai
Risk management: Good
Supplemental info: + UFC flyweight champion + 17x muay Thai and K-1 championships + 9x IMFA Champ (56-2 as a pro) + Tae kwon do black belt (2nd dan) + 4 KO victories + 7 submission wins + 6 first-round finishes + KO power + Excellent footwork ^ Seldom out of position + Accurate check hook and counter cross + Hard knees, elbows and kicks + Crafty clinch game ^ Good trips and tosses + Strong positional grappler
Jessica Andrade (21-8 MMA, 12-6 UFC)
Height: 5’1″ Age: 29 Weight: 125 lbs. Reach: 62″
Last fight: TKO win over Katlyn Chookagian (Oct. 17, 2020)
Camp: Parana Vale Tudo (Brazil)
Stance/striking style: Orthodox/muay Thai
Risk management: Fair
Supplemental info: + Former UFC strawweight champion + Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt + Muay Thai blue belt + 8 KO victories + 7 submission wins + 9 first-round finishes + KO power + Relentless pace and pressure + High-volume striker ^ Combinations and bodywork + Strong inside the clinch ^ Trips, throws, high-crotch lifts + Strikes well off the breaks + Solid top game ^ Pressures, postures, strikes, passes
Point of interest: Bull vs. matador
(Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
The third featured title fight at UFC 261 has all the makings of a classic styles match on the feet. Coming out like the proverbial bull in a China shop, the former strawweight champion, [autotag]Jessica Andrade[/autotag], is your quintessential pressure fighter. Akin to the female version of John Lineker, Andrade is most effective when able to get her opposition on the back foot and fleeting toward the fence. Once able to corral her opponent in between the cage and inner-black octagon lines, the 29-year-old Brazilian will unleash in left-to-right continuums, varying well to the body with regularity. Andrade’s aggression obviously makes her available to offense coming back her way, but she has been better about trying to find solutions for her style and stature that involve head movement and past influences. https://twitter.com/DanTomMMA/status/1385477137814081536?s=20 That said, I’m not sure how much Andrade will lean into her dipping propensities considering the kicks and counters that [autotag]Valentina Shevchenko[/autotag] will be cooking up this Saturday. https://twitter.com/DanTomMMA/status/1385396965383413760?s=20 Indoctrinated into martial arts through her family, Shevchenko has been a practitioner of combat sports since she was 4, amassing multiple titles in K-1 and the IFMA (the same organization where she fought and beat Joanna Jedrzejczyk three times). A counter fighter by nature, Shevchenko wields all the weapons that a southpaw should never leave home without, keeping everything from check-hooks to counter crosses on a hair-trigger. And whenever someone tries to step off to the champion’s weak side, she offers answers in the form of spinning assaults that pair perfectly with liver kicks to help keep her opposition corralled. Shevchenko’s countering sensibilities have lent to slow fights with fighters who were hesitant to engage. However, given Andrade’s vaunted aggression, I suspect that we could see the challenger bring out a lot of the champion’s offense.
Point of interest: Winning the wrestling
With both fighters carrying solid ground games in their back pockets, I will be curious to see who looks to initiate grappling exchanges first. Shevchenko has a knack for hitting takedowns in a countering fashion that may come to light given her current counterpart’s aggressive approach. As we’ve seen in past Shevchenko fights, fighters who come in hot on the champion tend to get grounded accordingly. Nevertheless, Shevchenko will still need to respect the takedown threat in Andrade if she means to avoid having the tables turned on her. Arguably one of the most violent takedown practitioners in any division she competes in, Andrade is certainly not shy when it comes to opportunities to toss her opposition into the air. The former strawweight champ works well from bodylock variations and can change her level in the open, but does her best work from a head-outside single (a technique that allows her strength to shine through as she almost hoists her opposition at will). https://twitter.com/DanTomMMA/status/1385032531716677635?s=20 However, her comfort inside of the clinch (despite striking well off of the breaks) could be problematic in this matchup. No longer underrated inside of the clinch, Shevchenko possesses all the tools you would expect from a muay Thai practitioner. Not only does Shevchenko wield mean elbows off the break, but the Kyrgyzstani is also better about getting her back off of the fence at this weight class. https://twitter.com/DanTomMMA/status/1385454746689937410?s=20 Although many high-level strikers have failed to develop grappling games in MMA, I think that fighters who come from traditional muay Thai backgrounds bring an aspect of grappling that is typically understated. A devastating striking art with an often-overlooked emphasis on clinch wrestling, Shevchenko embraced and excelled in the grappling aspects of muay Thai, which in turn granted her success while competing in that sport (as well as this one). Even when taken down, Shevchenko offers credible submission threats off of her back and is mostly positionally sound when playing from topside. That said, the champion can’t afford to sleep on the skills of Andrade. The Brazilian has come a long way since her submission losses at bantamweight, as Andrade is now a fully fledged black belt in jiu-jitsu. And if Andrade is able to get things to the ground, she employs a positional assault that involves posturing, passing and striking with impunity.
Point of interest: Odds and opinions
The oddsmakers and the public are siding with the sitting champion, listing Shevchenko -460 and Andrade +365 as of this writing. Considering the normal spread we see for a Shevchenko fight, you can make the argument that the betting public is showing respect to the challenger at these odds. If Andrade demonstrates the ability to get inside and win wrestling exchanges early, then she could force Shevchenko into a more conservative approach on the feet as she looks to bank control time to steal rounds on the floor. Though that may sound perfectly feasible in theory, I still suspect that Andrade will have to walk through hell if she means to even get a hold of her target. And between the lack of depth to Andrade’s in-fighting to the step-up in power, I have a hard time seeing the Brazilian beating an underhook-happy Shevchenko in close (especially with her improved urgency to separate grips). I’m not sure if Andrade will look to slip and rip as dramatically as the examples I laid out on previous pages given the kicking arsenal of Shevchenko, but I do suspect that the challenger’s aggression will make her ripe for the champion’s check hook, as well as knees up the middle. I’ve always been a big fan of Andrade, but the official pick is Shevchenko to force a stoppage via strikes by the end of the third round.