Valentina Shevchenko vs. Jessica Eye co-headlines UFC 238 this June 8, 2019 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois.
One sentence summary
David: More like Valentina Shankchenko. Amirite?
Phil: Jessica Nay.
Record: Valentina Shevchenko 16-3 | Jessica Eye 14-6-1 NC
Odds: Valentina Shevchenko -1050 | Jessica Eye +850
History / Introduction to the fighters
David: It’s been a long time since we’ve had a fighter like Shevchenko. An elite fighter who was never quite dominant, and therefore always on the cusp. That breaks a lot of fighters. To be so close and without a cigar. The blood, sweat, and tears put into a pugilism journey. It takes a lot out of you. Literally. Shevchenko, however — like her style — has never broke. Even as the competition got tougher. The competition will not get tougher this weekend. Which is what makes it an interesting in its own way. Shevchenko has been the underdog in most of her recent fights. That is defiantly not the case here.
Phil: Shevchenko’s only losses in recent memory are two close (in the latter case very close) losses to Amanda Nunes, a comparative titan who could sling huge shots at her or peck away from range with impunity. Other than that she’s been basically flawless, and with any kind of physicality parity she’s beaten quality opposition relatively easily (Holm, Pena). With a physicality advantage, she was able to handily beat a P4P talent in Jedrzejczyk. She may not always set the world alight, but she is an excellent fighter.
David: Eye is the spiritual twin of Shevchenko, if that spiritual twin were less mobile, and couldn’t move well. As in, she’s maintained a style never waning or wavering that’s informed her unique durability. Shevchenko won more as a result, where Eye has lot more as a result. She’s winning the same way she’s been losing: leaving it in the hands of the judges.
Phil: Eye is the rare example of a fighter who has managed to consistently surprise me without ever really making me interested. That feels like a mean thing to think! There haven’t been many macro-level improvements in her style: she’s the same better-than-average kickboxer that she used to be. The improvements are more intangible: she stays more composed under fire, and she’s no longer getting overpowered quite as much as she used to.
What’s at stake?
David: The stakes are high for people that bet. A lot. The odds are so ridiculously lopsided, it’s tempting to play the lottery on this one. Nobody’s betting on the idea that Shevchenko is an inferior fighter. Just that she might be an inferior human being on a night in which her opponent is trying to take her head off. That’s “attractive” for some people.
Phil: I can’t really hate on the odds. We’re in a world where a bunch of (presumably) my countrymen managed to make Anthony Joshua a favourite in the -2500 range to Andy Ruiz Jr, implying that they hadn’t watched any of Joshua’s last three fights, I would actually consider Eye winning to be much more of an upset.
Where do they want it?
David: Shevchenko is just an absolute wizard of rigid adherence to craft and motion. She carves out a painstaking attention to details at range. It’s not just mechanics. It’s her intelligence to plan each attack, the vision to execute, and the speed to pull all of that efficiency together. No matter who she’s been in the cage with, nobody has ever truly pushed her out of her comfort zone. They’ve contained her in pockets. But that’s about it. It helps that her grappling is pretty darn elite. She isn’t just moving forward with predictable attacks. She’s moving forward with unpredictable offense. In that way, she’s mastered direct and indirect offense. She’s not just landing strikes. She’s landing strikes that take away potential territory. She’s an elite technician in ways that make the title less a metaphor, and her real identity.
Phil: The Kyrgyzstani has a tight, quick right hook and a superb feel for distance. That in and of itself makes her exceptionally threatening, as it’s an oddly uncommon strike in MMA despite having tremendous efficacy and safety. However, Shevchenko is also an exceptional clinch wrestler who was a reasonably strong bantamweight, and something of a hulk at 125. Inside and outside trips are the order of the day. Finally, she’s an excellent kick counterer, whether she’s parrying oblique kicks a la Holm or catching body kicks. This is one of the few times where she’ll open up with combinations, often ending with her own kick. It all makes sense- peppering with kicks is a good way to build a points lead against a counter puncher, but for Shevchenko it’s just another opportunity for some of her best counters.
David: Eye has the talent of a solid fighter but the raw instincts of a ham and egger. Pulling herself up by her whoopstraps, her game centers around resets. With an assortment of kicks, and combinations, Eye generates offense in spots, and resets for more spots to generate the same offense. She’s like the mole at the arcade if it got whacked all the time but had its own mallet.
Phil: Ham’n’egger is about right. Eye is a collection of about the most functional tools you can get in MMA: a one-two, leg kick and cross, backed up with a double leg and a decent transitional grappling game. She’s been more of a willing takedown artist of late, but remains a bit inert from top position. It’s hard to really describe her game other than to say: it’s fine. No single area jumps out. She doesn’t hit very hard, she’s not a great counterpuncher, or great off the back foot in general, and she’s not particularly defensively sound. She is very tough, though- she’s never been stopped by strikes and her last submission loss was in 2011.
Insight from past fights
David: One of the things Eye has gotten better at doing is punctuating her rote combinations with higher impact strikes. She’s mixed in those high danger attempts with her general rhythm of pot shotting pugilism. But “high danger” doesn’t mean punishing or hurtful. Eye doesn’t have the necessary power to pull away from fights. That’s a huge issue against a fighter like Shevchenko. You can’t nickel-and-dime her. Which is why I struggle to imagine a single scenario where Eye isn’t progressively obliterated. Maybe if the judges are out to lunch, and Eye still has exigent consciousness when it’s all done (??).
Phil: I was trying to figure out ways for Eye to win when I was talking with Connor for Heavy Hands this week, and like you, I drew a blank. Perhaps she could replicate the Volkanovski approach against Aldo, and pepper with minor volume to pull out a points lead... but she doesn’t have the athleticism, defensive responsibility, or the ability to use the clinch as a safety zone.
David: Maybe we know nothing of Shevchenko’s nightlife. Maybe she’s Kyrgyzstani version of Charlie Sheen, banging 7 gram rocks and June is the month of her tailspin. That’s the kind of universe Eye will need to live in to have a chance, and I’m not even sure a 7 gram rock won’t turn Shevchenko into a spinning backfist supercomputer.
Phil: I suspect Shevchenko is not interesting enough to be crazy. She really does strike me as the person she plays: she likes shooting stuff, and Kyrgyzstani dancing, and that’s probably about as far as she goes. My main worry is that Eye realizes that she can’t win, and freezes up, and we get a terrible Nunes-Shevchenko II-esque staring match.
David: This feels as cut and dry as it gets. Even in Eye’s recent wins, she’s been taking not-insignificant punishment. Shevchenko’s style has never wavered. And when it did, it’s because her opponent could physically contain her. Eye is not that fighter, nor has she ever been that fight. Valentina Shevchenko by RNC, round 3.
Phil: Eye is still incredibly tough, and Shevchenko just doesn’t chase finishes. I really, really hope she does but I suspect we might be in for an increasingly frustrating night. Valentina Shevchenko by unanimous decision.