Valentina Shevchenko remained the UFC women’s flyweight champion on Saturday night but not without a bit of adversity. Shevchenko turned away Taila Santos in the co-main event of UFC 275 from Kallang, Singapore.
Shevchenko had a challenging time coping with Santos’ size advantage and grappling talents. The turning point of the fight was packaged with an unintentional clash of heads. The collision swole Santos’ eye nearly shut and Shevchenko nestled into the driver’s seat from that point on. The champion’s late push was enough to secure her a split decision by scores of 48-47, 47-48 and 49-46.
Shevchenko landed a nice counter right hook early in the fight. She slipped on a takedown attempt following an extended clinch against the fence and Santos jumped on her back. The title challenger aggressively hunted neck cranks and rear-naked chokes, wrenching back on Shevchenko’s face. The champion was surprisingly effective at punching behind her, repeatedly clocking Santos in the temple.
Santos leaned on her grappling in the second, pressing Shevchenko against the fence. A takedown towards the center of the Octagon was successful for Santos at the two-minute mark. Shevchenko hunted a rare gogoplata, but Santos worked out of it. Shevchenko dug into the challenger’s body with a body kick and snapped her down with a head-and-arm throw. The fighters scrambled back and forth on the ground with Santos ultimately settling on top.
Referee Jason Herzog paused the fight at the start of Round 3. Bizarrely, Santos’ corner forgot to put her mouthpiece back in. Shevchenko took the lead at range as she picked away at Santos with kicks to the body and leg. Shevchenko nearly landed a takedown, but Santos scrambled to her feet. The larger Santos again managed to press Shevchenko against the fence with two minutes left. Santos succeeded in finding the takedown and took Shevchenko’s back. Santos got as close as she has in this fight to a rear-naked choke but it wasn’t particularly alarming.
Santos had visible swelling around her eye at the start of Round 4. The commentators revealed that a clash of heads caused the damage to Santos, which completely shut her right eye as the round continued. Shevchenko felt the change in momentum and opened up with big strikes on various targets. Shevchenko capped off a blitzing combination of strikes with a head kick that partially landed. Santos ducked a late flurry by Shevchenko and scored a takedown.
The champion opened with harsh body kicks and a blitz of punches that hurt Santos. The challenger immediately responded with a takedown attempt. Shevchenko defaulted again to the head-and-arm throw which, while effective, resulted in Santos taking the back. Shevchenko wiggled out of it and the fighters returned to their feet with three minutes left in the closing round. Shevchenko landed a solid combination up top and surprised Santos with a body lock takedown.
“I did everything. I left my heart in this Octagon,” Shevchenko told Daniel Cormier in the post-fight interview. “I want to keep going. I want to keep fighting. I want to improve. Bantamweight, flyweight, it doesn’t matter.”
“I’m still young. I can’t complain about decisions or anything but this is not the last time that you will see me fighting for a belt,” Santos told Cormier, through an interpreter, afterwards. “Unfortunately, I couldn’t really see out of my right eye after it closed.”
Shevchenko notched the sixth consecutive defense of her UFC women’s flyweight championship and extended her active winning streak to eight. Shevchenko recently teased that she would challenge for the women’s bantamweight crown by year’s end. Her only two career losses are to former 135-pound women’s champion Amanda Nunes.