Shevchenko rematch all that stands between Nunes and UFC dominance

Nunes celebrates a knockout over RouseyAmanda Nunes emerged as the new face of women’s mixed martial arts by overwhelming former UFC champions Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate with powerful, precise punches, but she wasn’t able to do the same with Valentina Shevchenko when the two met at UFC 196. Nunes won that fight by unanimous decision, but the rematch, which headlines UFC 213 on Saturday, offers both fighters a chance to finish the fight in a more definitive manner.

Nunes has not lost a fight in nearly three years, earning knockout or submission wins in the opening round of four of her five fights since. She took down Shayna Baszler with a leg kick, used a rear naked choke on Sara McMann—and again on Tate after stunning the then-champion with a series of strikes—and finished of Rousey with a flurry of punches less than a minute into their much-hyped bout at UFC 207. But Shevchenko weathered the storm in their first meeting, countering well on her feet and withstanding some punishment from Nunes when the fight went to ground.

A series of elbows bloodied Shevchenko’s nose and cheek in the second round, but she overcame a rear naked choke attempt by Nunes late in the round and started strong in the third, ending the fight with Nunes on the back foot. Shevchenko displayed a creative array of strikes with a spinning backhand attempt and a superman punch, and while Nunes had been the clear winner of the first 10 minutes, she faded towards the end and it appeared as though a five-round fight could have turned out very differently.

Saturday’s rematch is scheduled for five rounds with a championship belt on the line, giving Shevchenko an opportunity to really test Nunes’ endurance. Nunes will likely be pushing for an early knockout, which, if successful, would cement her as the most dominant women’s UFC champion since Rousey’s reign, but Shevchenko appears to understand how to avoid the brunt of Nunes’ strikes. It’s the rare situation in which the defending champion is more likely to be the aggressor, and it should make for a riveting headliner.