On Saturday night the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado, plays host to a fight between top bantamweight contenders Julianna Peña and Valentina Shevchenko. The two women find themselves at the top of the pile of contenders at 135 pounds.
Miesha Tate has retired. Ronda Rousey may be doing the same. Holly Holm is fighting for UFC gold at 145 pounds at UFC 208. Space has formed in the bantamweight division, aiding Peña and Shevchenko’s rise to the top.
Whether reigning bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes opts to fight for the 145 pound title or not, the winner of the Peña – Shevchenko bout seems a lock to fight for the bantamweight belt at some point.
To help figure out who is going to get that win and tell you all you need to know about both competitors, Victor Vargas and Stephen Rivers take a look at their respective chances of getting the win on FOX on Saturday.
VARGAS on PEÑA
Season 13 of The Ultimate Fighter was the first season to ever allow women to participate. Veterans like Tonya Evinger, Colleen Schneider, Tara Larosa, Shayna Baszler and Roxanne Modafferi were all thought to be shoe-ins as finalists or winners, but most of those weren’t able to get in the house and the ones that did were dispatched in the opening elimination fight.
The first fight of the season was between Shayna Baszler and Julianna Peña. The lesser known Peña was given little chance against the WMMA pioneer, but she made easy work of “The Queen of Spades” by submitting the catch wrestler in the first round.
Semi-finalist Sarah Moras was also submitted and Peña put in a dominant ground and pound display against former boxer Jessica Rakoczy to win the TUF 13 contract.
Not much has changed since 2013. Peña has not shown too much improvement in other areas. A catastrophic knee injury following the Rakoczy fight put her on the sidelines for over a year and was most likely a cause for her stagnant skill set. Nevertheless, her grappling has become more layered and educated.
“The Venezuelan Vixen” is a ball of fury and her stand-up exemplifies that. Bullrushing her way into the clinch has been Peña’s modus operandi since her debut, but she hasn’t stopped in finding ways of getting the fight to the mat.
Peña’s last fight with former title challenger Cat Zingano showed how much she’s matured. Zingano is well-rounded, and as ferocious as Peña. It didn’t matter, as Peña was patient and determined and was able to outgrapple the powerful wrestler.
Shevchenko has some respectable grappling skills, especially in the clinch but she will be at a disadvantage at any point that Peña is able to clasp her hands together around her. “Bullet” is an appropriate nickname for Shevchenko. Aside from being a firearm enthusiast she is also lightning fast. Being fleet of foot will be essential for her victory. Shevchenko’s win over Holm showed how proficient her striking is.
Hindsight being 20/20, it’s rather obvious why Shevchenko was able to out-slick the former champion. Holm is an out-fighter first and foremost. The Rousey fight was a class A study in how to evade and punish an aggressive, novice striker. Holm countered excellently because Rousey was doing half of Holm’s job by rushing in with her chin up in the air.
Shevchenko was the naturally quicker fighter and Holm is notorious for throwing feelers out to gauge distance. For a striker as experienced and knowledgable as Shevchenko, Holm was a treat.
As backward as it may seem, Peña might be a trickier opponent despite her lack of striking. Peña like Holm, is an out-fighter. Unlike Holm, Peña is one out of necessity rather than choice. Peña has not developed any nuance in her striking game and that may be to her advantage. Shevchenko is adept at reading opponents, since Peña has no educated manner of attacking opponents it makes her a bit more unpredictable.
Peña will bumrush her way into the clinch and will most likely be able to take her down. On the mat, Shevchenko is passive, very defensively oriented but Peña is good at both attacking and her last performance showed she’s getting better at maintaining top position and riding. Shevchenko’s footwork is great and will pose problems for Peña but getting the fight to the floor and maintaining top position for three of the five rounds sounds manageable.
Prediction: Julianna Peña by a close competitive decision.
RIVERS on SHEVCHENKO
Valentina Shevchenko can do more than win on Saturday night. She has the tools to make Julianna Pena look bad. That would leave no doubt that Shevchenko is the next contender for the 135 pound title.
Everything about Shevchenko’s three-fight UFC run has been remarkable. Sarah Kaufman is one of the greatest bantamweights of all time. Shevchenko took a fight with her on nine days notice and won. Not bad for a UFC debut.
Amanda Nunes has wrecked every opponent she has faced since moving to American Top Team, apart from Valentina Shevchenko. During that run, Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate — the two greatest bantamweights in MMA history — had nothing for Nunes. They lasted a combined four minutes and four seconds. Shevchenko took Nunes to a decision, and won the third round in their fight.
Then there was Holly Holm. A bigger, longer, expert striker who had put in two stellar performances against Rousey and Tate herself. Shevchenko won four of the five rounds in her fight with Holm, eventually cruising to a decision win.
All mightily impressive, but Kaufman, Nunes, and Holm are all very different fighters to Julianna Pena. That’s why I’m expecting this to be the easiest fight of the lot.
The knock against Shevchenko is that she is gun-shy early in fights, unwilling to trade and open up on the feet. In a five round fight, that is less of a problem than it was over three rounds against Nunes.
Playing into that is the fact that Pena, for all her tenacity and dogged determination, is not a natural finisher when faced with legitimate opposition. Both Jessica Eye and Cat Zingano survived on the ground before losing to Pena by decision. Facing Amanda Nunes — a better and more dangerous grappler than Pena — Shevchenko survived there too, and had gas left in the tank in the subsequent third round.
Also of note in a five round main event is that we have seen Shevchenko fight for 25 minutes in the past. We know what we get from her. Technically sound is a term that does not do Shevchenko justice. There is no wasted motion, and that contributes to Shevchenko’s ability to increase her output as the fight goes on.
This is not to say that Julianna Pena has cardio issues in a five round fight, — although chasing an opponent while being countered effectively will tire anyone — but we haven’t seen her in the main event rounds before. It could become a factor.
Shevchenko times her counter strikes better than anyone else in the 135 pound division. She adapts quickly during fights, and lands with regularity when opponents commit. The harder they chase as the fight gets away from them, the more Shevchenko punches them square in the face.
If Pena tries to work into the clinch, Shevchenko is not only able to land with power from that position, but is also physically strong and hard to muscle around. Pena’s ability to womanhandle previous opponents has played a part in her success. If Pena is unable to do that against Shevchenko, this becomes an almost unwinnable fight for her.
Pena often takes one or two strikes just to get into range and grab a hold of opponents, but that brings no guarantee of success here either. Shevchenko is the quicker and more mobile fighter and should be able to outmaneuver Pena more effectively the longer the fight goes on.
That is really how I see this fight playing out. I don’t see Pena being able to take the fight into areas where she has an advantage often enough. On the feet, it is hard to put into words how much better Shevchenko is than Pena. It is a vast gap that will only get wider with each passing round.
Prediction: Shevchenko by TKO in the main event rounds, or one-sided decision.
UFC looks for undefeated fighters for the next season of TUF
As the latest season of The Ultimate Fighter comes to a close in a few weeks, UFC has set tryouts for the next season of The Ultimate Fighter on December 12th but there is a catch, participates must hold an undefeated record.
Titled The Ultimate Fighter 27: Battle of the Undefeated, the next installment of TUF will be looking for male fighters with an undefeated record with a minimum of 3-0 to apply for the show. The casting call asks for featherweights and welterweights but in the early stages of tryouts, a weight class will be decided later in the process.
Fighters must be aged between 21 – 34 and will grapple and light spar in front of UFC matchmakers and must be prepared to stay in Vegas until December 16th.
It is unknown what the future of TUF will be after the TV deal with FOX ends next year but the show has been a success for the company and many fighters to emerge from The Ultimate Fighter have become champion including current interim Lightweight champion Tony Ferguson, Bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw and Strawweight champion Rose Namajunas coming from past seasons of the show.
This will be the third time in a row that a gimmick will be added to the show that has been on the decline in the ratings in recent years but yet to use only undefeated fighters. An undefeated streak can be one of the most prestigious records to keep in mixed martial arts with the wins and losses being so vital in a fighters career.
Who will keep their zero? Who will be the next Ultimate Fighter? Who will be the coaches?
These questions will be answered when the new season of TUF begins shooting in January and the show premiering later in the year.
Tom Gallicchio on UFC Release “It’s Been a Dream of Mine to Fight in KSW”
MMA Latest spoke to TUF 22 and 25 season competitor Tom Gallicchio about being cut from the UFC, and potential promotions that he could sign for in the future.
Gallicchio (19-10) signed for the UFC after reaching the semi-finals of The Ultimate Fighter: Season 25. Losing to James Krause in his debut, “Da Tank” was informed earlier this month that the UFC had parted ways with him.
Q: Before we jump into the whole free agency stuff, talk me through how the UFC broke the news that they were going to release you?
I thought I was going to have another fight, this time at lightweight. I got a letter dated July 7th, saying they were going to keep me, I received it in September. I was getting emails to update my USADA, I never got a cut letter and I got tested by USADA on October 24th. I was hoping to fight sometime in January or February, then they broke the news to me that they need to make a room for new talent.
Q: You made your UFC debut against James Krause in July, then 4 months down the line, they cut you. How surprised were you at this somewhat out of the blue decision?
I’m thankful for my opportunity in the UFC and the fact that they gave me another shot, but it was definitely surprising how it happened. They released a newsletter in September welcoming Jesse (Taylor) Dhiego (Lima) and myself into the UFC, all signs pointed towards another fight. Hearing that I was cut was just heartbreaking.
Q: Have any talks started with a new promotion. I saw you name a few on Twitter, the likes of Bellator, BAMMA, KSW and ACB. Who do you see yourself signing for?
I would love to compete in any of those! A couple of them hit me up, one of which I am very happy to talk with. Since they came out, It’s been a dream of mine to fight in KSW. They’re taking care of their fighters, I would love to fight for them. I want to travel, I want to see the world, I want to fight. I’ve got a lot of fans overseas and I want to give them a show.
It’s been a dream of mine to fight in KSW.
— Tom Gallicchio (@TomGallicchio) November 15, 2017
Q: Your long time friend Jesse Taylor was victorious in the TUF 25 Finale, but he has since accepted a 1-year ban for failing a USADA test. What is your take on this given how close you two are?
I know Jesse is not a juicer, I’ve known him ever since I came down to (Team) Quest. It’s probably come from some supplement that he’s taking, it sucks for him. I think he went into a little bit of panic mode, he could have done a better job of handling it.
— Tom Gallicchio (@TomGallicchio) November 16, 2017
I don’t take supplements, if there was a way, I’d still keep myself in the USADA pool just because I believe in a clean sport. I think it’s important we keep the sport clean and if we’re cleaning up the supplement companies then good, because no one else is.
Where would you look to see Tom fight next? Let us know below!
2017 IMMAF World Championships: Finals fixtures
After 4 days of non stop action from Monday to Thursday we have our final 14 bouts to determine the 2017 IMMAF World Champions. Most of these fighters have fought four times for their slot in the final and tomorrow will be their chance to finish off what has been a fantastic week of fights.
Kicking off the action tomorrow will be Michele Oliveira vs. Danni Neilan. Both women have looked extremely impressive in their bouts so far, Oliveira has spent less time in the cage than her opponent after finishing two of her fights. Neilan is the Irish teams last chance of a gold in this competition and comes into this after a war of a last fight. She is constantly pressuring and has solid striking with incredible ground and pound from any position on top.
Joel Aronlainen came down to featherweight after testing the water at lightweight in the European Championships. His lanky build and impressive overall skill set has seen him pick up 3 finishes in the competition so far. His opponent Delyan Georgiev is undefeated and will be a tough challenge for him. Georgiev has dominated the featherweight division at amateur, his gold medal at the European Championships could now lead to him becoming a world champion if he continues to perform like we’re used to seeing him do.
At 155lbs, Vitali Andruhovich will take on top American prospect Quintin Thomas for the gold. Andruhovich has been on the right side of two very close split decisions in this tournament so far. His controversial win over Irishman Ciaran Clarke had many people scratching their heads at the decision. He now has the chance to prove himself with a win against Quintin Thomas. Thomas is the UMMAF National Champion and a very experienced amateur fighter. Racking up 13 wins he has been a dominant fighter in most of his fights, his sole losses coming from sustaining an injury and a split decision loss.
For the Middleweight medal we have a battle of the Nordic fighters. Iceland’s Bjorn Lukas Haraldsson has looked phenomenal in his fights so far, finishing each and everyone inside a round. The Mjolnir fighter has been to many the highlight of the tournament, but has a tough task a head of him in Laallam who’s had half the number of fights in this tournament and looked impressive in both.
Bahrain’s last hope for a medal lies in the hand of Light Heavyweight finisher Murtaza Talha Ali. Ali has finished all four of his bouts so far, 3 via TKO/KO and his last being by way of submission. Standing in his way of gold will be Pavel Pahomenko from Belarus who’s proven to be lethal with submissions once an opportunity arises scoring two submission wins inside the first round.
Here is the full fixture list for the finals tomorrow:
- Michele Oliveira vs. Danni Neilan 125 lbs
- Anna Astvik vs. Hannah Dawson 115 lbs
- Chamia Chabbi vs. Manon Fiorot 135 lbs
- C. McCrudden vs. Fabiana Giampà 145 lbs
- Gase Sanita vs. Kaycee Blake 155 lbs
- Yernaz Mussabek vs. Serdar Atlas 125 lbs
- Gamzat Magomedov vs. O. Moldagaliyev 135 lbs
- Joel Arolainen vs. Delyan Georgiev 145 lbs
- V. Andruhovich vs. Quitin Thomas 155 lbs
- Sola Axel vs. Benjamin Bennett 170 lbs
- B. Haraldsson vs. Khaled Laallam 185 lbs
- Pavel Pahomenko vs. Murtaza Talha Ali 205 lbs
- Irman Smajic vs. Lev Vins 265 lbs
- Atanas Krastanov vs. Marcin Kalata 300 lbs
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