Valentina Shevchenko is one of the best female fighters of all-time and since the UFC created the 125-pound division she’s been unbeatable.
Shevchenko dominates her opponents with her high-level striking, but has also shown a dominant ground game to earn wins. She’s currently 5-0 in the division with four stoppage victories. Many consider Shevchenko to be the most dominant UFC champion, so who has the best chance to end her reign?
Looking at the flyweight division, Joanne Calderwood will be next in line for a title shot. After that, the likes of Roxanne Modafferi and Lauren Murphy could be next while prospects such as Montana De La Rosa, Maycee Barber, and Andrea Lee seem destined to be future title challengers. Yet, on paper, none of them pose massive problems to Shevchenko. So, the person who has the best chance to end her reign is strawweight champion, Weili Zhang.
Zhang has talked about moving up in weight and fighting Shevchenko even before she became a champion. She’s undefeated in the UFC and has a first-round knockout win over Jessica Andrade to claim the belt and then defended against Joanna Jedrzejczyk.
Although Zhang is still a fairly new champion, Shevchenko is running out of challengers so Zhang could defend her belt one or two more times and then get the shot. If they do end up fighting, it would be a phenomenal scrap.
Both Shevchenko and Zhang are high-level strikers with knockout power. Both have proven they have the cardio to go five rounds and still have power into the fifth round. Although Shevchenko would be bigger, Zhang is still a big strawweight with a ton of muscle mass that should translate to a move up to 125-pounds.
In her UFC career, Zhang has landed 5.49 significant strikes per minute while only absorbing 2.17. On defense, she has a significant striking defense of 68 percent, which is impressive. She also has a solid ground game where she averages 1.78 takedowns per 15 minutes and has a 100 percent takedown rate showing she has the ability to stuff Shevchenko’s takedowns.
If Valentina Shevchenko can’t get a takedown against Zhang this fight becomes so much more interesting. We saw in the Jedrzejczyk bout that the Chinese champion can take a punch and keep moving forward. She also isn’t afraid to exchange in the pocket.
In their UFC careers, both Zhang and Shevchenko like to be the one pushing the pace. Yet, if Zhang is the one who can put the flyweight champ on her back foot that is where she can have success, similar to what Amanda Nunes did.
Ultimately, beating Valentina Shevchenko at 125-pounds seems tough but strawweight champion, Weili Zhang has the best chance to do so.
Do you agree that Weili Zhang has the best chance to end Valentina Shevchenko’s reign? Let us know in the comment section.
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This article first appeared on BJPENN.com on 4/24/2020.