After a year of uncertainty, the UFC women’s bantamweight division is starting to round into shape. The next piece of the puzzle is to find Amanda Nunes’ next challenger for the gold and that will either be Valentina Shevchenko or Julianna Pena.
UFC has brought plenty of excitement to Denver, as the main card features plenty of finishers including Donald Cerrone, Andrei Arlovski and Francis Ngannou, to name a few.
Valentina Shevchenko (-135) vs Julianna Pena (+105)
Shevchenko is a technical marvel on the feet. “Bullet” has black belts in both taekwondo and judo to go along with Masters of Sports in Muay Thai, boxing and kickboxing. Shevchenko is at her best when she can keep her distance and land her big counter right hook, which is the punch she has built her striking around. However, her extensive Muay Thai experience has made her deadly in the clinch with vicious elbows and knees.
On the ground, Shevchenko is solid. She is far from an expert in this aspect of the game, but she knows how to pass guard and take advantage of opportunities that may present themselves. From her back, Shevchenko is capable but nothing more than average.
Shevchenko will want to dictate the range and pace of this fight. The Peruvian fights a methodical style where she can wait for her opponent to make a mistake that she can capitalize on. When she is heavily pressured, she can be taken out of her element (see Amanda Nunes fight), but will almost always win a war of attrition thanks to her precise striking and cardio.
Pena is an athletic, god-gifted ball of aggression who loves to rush at her opponent from the Sportsbook bell. “The Venezuelan Vixen” specializes in suffocating her opponents with her powerful ground game. Pena is all about controlling her opponent and if she gets top control, she is one of the hardest fighters in the UFC to push off. Pena passes with ease, lands vicious ground and pound and can lock in a submission with ease.
Pena’s standup game is improving but there is little doubt it is built to get her into the clinch. She has some natural power in her hands and has gotten better at tossing her jab out, but it’s all about pushing forward and getting a hold of her opponent. In the clinch, Pena will work tirelessly to get the takedown with a wide array of trips and throws.
This aggressive style has stifled many of Pena’s opponents and it’s one of the things that makes her extremely dangerous. However, like any fighter who implements this style, this has left Pena open to counter-striking at times and gets her taken down a lot. Pena has awful takedown defense; now whether that is because she’d rather be in a disadvantaged ground position compared with striking is hard to know.
This fight ultimately comes down to dictating the pace. If Shevchenko can maintain distance and avoid getting taken down, she will likely chip her way to a decision victory. If Pena can get top control and get to work, then she could very easily overwhelm and get this fight stopped early.
Rest Of The Main Card
Donald Cerrone (-165) looks to stake his claim to a welterweight title shot in the co-main event, as he takes on Jorge Masvidal (+135). Cerrone has been near unstoppable since moving to 170, as ‘Cowboy’ has recorded five straight stoppage victories since moving up. Cerrone wants to keep a fight at range where he can properly use his deadly kicks to pick his opponent apart. Though he is widely known as a striker, Cerrone is just as dangerous on the ground with 16 submission victories. The way to defeat Cerrone is pressure, but he has begun to address that issue with improved movement and reactionary takedowns. Masvidal is a technical fighter who would prefer to box with his opponent. He has a stinging jab and knows how to sit down on his punches. There have been times when Masvidal has been criticized for coasting in fights, but he has looked far more motivated of late.
Future heavyweight title contender Francis Ngannou (-400) tests his mettle against stalwart Andrei Arlovski (+300). Ngannou may literally be the scariest man in the UFC. The Cameroon-born fighter stands at 6’4” and weighs in at 260 lbs of pure muscle. Possibly the scariest aspect is just how quickly Ngannou has progressed in just three years of MMA. This mountain of a man uses his 83” reach well to keep his opponent outside until he wants to bust in with a vicious combination. Largely opponents have had difficulty putting Ngannou in situations where he is uncomfortable, but he has looked good in limited grappling. Arlovski comes into this fight looking to prove he still belongs in the elite level after suffering three straight losses. “The Pit Bull” is still athletic and rangy despite being 38 years old and fighting for nearly two decades. The right hand is Arlovski’s key weapon, as he can throw it with knockout power from every conceivable angle. Arlovski is solid in every aspect of fighting, but has been very hittable, which is troublesome against Ngannou.
The main card kicks off with what should be an exciting flyweight bout between Jason Knight (-160) and Alex Caceres (+130). Knight pushes forward in the standup game and has been showing some growth in that area during his tenure with the UFC. Ultimately, “The Kid” wants to be on the mat, as he is skilled and aggressive on the ground. Caceres is a volume striker in the standup game who has no qualms with throwing unorthodox techniques. “Bruce Leeroy” has worked to fix his grappling issues and that has become apparent over his last several outings.