Welcome to The Weekly Takedown, Sports Illustrated’s newest look at MMA. Every week, this column will offer insight and information on the most noteworthy stories in the fight world.
Valentina Shevchenko explores future after dominant UFC 266 win
Valentina Shevchenko pummeled Lauren Murphy last Saturday at UFC 266, forcing yet another opponent to fade away to Bolivia.
The fight officially ended four minutes into the fourth round by TKO, but it was unofficially over in the opening moments. Remarkably, she did not even pick up the slightest bruise, which was serendipitous considering she was in Los Angeles a day after the fight to do promotional work and photos for her new movie, Bruised, which is directed by Halle Berry.
“I took a risk by doing it right after the fight,” says Shevchenko. “I knew something might happen, but this was very important to me. I’m so happy it was a success.”
Set to be released in November, Bruised captures the story of a disgraced MMA fighter seeking to find redemption. Shevchenko plays a villain in the film.
“I play a bad guy, a very bad one,” says Shevchenko. “It’s a great movie, but I play a bad person.”
Unlike the character she depicts in the film, Shevchenko is one of MMA’s brightest stars. And despite a one-sided, dominant effort against Murphy on Saturday, she still believes there is room for development
“That wasn’t my best,” says Shevchenko. “I am still progressing as a martial artist, and there are still ways for me to improve.”
Even away from the cage, Shevchenko is in a constant search for self-improvement. She is continually evolving as a person, and one of her current projects is learning to speak Thai, which she will add to her vast collection of languages, which include English, Russian and Spanish.
“You have to progress every day as a person, as a human being,” says Shevchenko. “It is so fascinating and attractive to me to learn something new and give myself more knowledge. Languages are so interesting; they open up the world to me. A new language allows me to appreciate different cultures on a deeper level, and discover even more.
“I’m not a tourist. I’m an explorer, I’m a traveler, so it is very deep for me. I want to speak to the people and listen to their experiences and their stories.”
The next goal for Shevchenko is mastering the open sea. She is currently in the process of learning about marine navigation, tides and currents. “We did an amazing boat trip this summer, navigating the waters. It’s a different world," she says. "I’m looking forward to learning how to sail and have longer trips navigating through the ocean.”
Shevchenko also won’t be away from the cage for too long, as she will be heavily invested in this Saturday’s UFC Fight Night card when her sister Antonina meets the undefeated Casey O’Neill in a flyweight bout on the prelims.
“I’ve seen Antonina training, and she is coming for the victory,” says Shevchenko. “She is strong, she is motivated, and she had a great weight cut. In her mind, there is only one goal, and that is victory. That is all she sees and she will be successful.”
As for Valentina's future, there are plenty of questions. Her domination of the top-10 of the women’s flyweight division continues, and the opponents left for her to dismantle are dwindling. While a third fight against Amanda Nunes would be a draw, that is likely a bout Nunes would prefer to avoid. Now, after a grueling camp and intense fight week, Shevchenko is still plotting out her future.
“Right now, I want to take time to rest,” says Shevchenko. “I put all my heart into my training camp, and that is very hard emotionally and very hard physically. That takes time on your body and your mind. I want to take some time, and then build a strategy with my team about what’s next.”
Voklanovski's dominance continues
Alexander Volkanovski is impervious to world-class jiu-jitsu.
At least that is the way it looked on Saturday night.
Volkanovski successfully defended his title against Brian Ortega, enduring—and then breaking—multiple submission maneuvers. Ortega’s guillotine and triangle were locked so tight that the end appeared near for Volkanovski, until he found a way to break each hold and then lay down a vicious beating on Ortega.
Volkanovski won by decision, overcoming Ortega, who proved to be his greatest challenge in the Octagon. In the process, he staked his claim to elevate himself in the pound-for-pound rankings. The third round of their bout was nothing short of incredible. It seemed like there was no question Volkanovski would tap when Ortega had him locked firmly in his guillotine. But, again, Volkanovski broke the hold. And once he got loose, he rained down a flurry of fists on Ortega, reminding the fighting world why he is champion.
The precision from Volkanovski was on an entirely different level. In his post-Octagon interview, Ortega even said that he heard Volkanovski gargling, a surefire sign that the tap out is imminent.
Volkanovski earned the respect he has been seeking. After winning the fight of the year, Volkanovski’s reign of dominance now continues.
The Pick ‘Em Section
With both UFC and Bellator running events this weekend, here are my picks:
UFC light Heavyweight bout: Thiago Santos vs. Johnny Walker
Pick: Thiago Santos
Bellator 267 welterweight main event: Douglas Lima vs. Michael Page
Pick: Michael Page
UFC middleweight bout: Kevin Holland vs. Kyle Daukaus
Pick: Kevin Holland
UFC welterweight bout: Alex Oliveira vs. Niko Price
Pick: Niko Price
UFC middleweight bout: Misha Cirkunov vs. Krzysztof Jotko
Pick: Krzysztof Jotko
UFC women’s bantamweight bout: Aspen Ladd vs. Macy Chiasson
Pick: Aspen Ladd
UFC lightweight bout: Alexander Hernandez vs. Mike Breeden
Pick: Alexander Hernandez
Last week: 4–1
Current record: 22–15
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