Holly Holm will find her way back to the Octagon a little more than four months after she relinquished the Ultimate Fighting Championship bantamweight crown.
Holm meets Kyrgyzstani muay Thai ace Valentina Shevchenko in the UFC on Fox 20 main event on Saturday at the United Center in Chicago, their five-round battle carrying with it potential title implications at 135 pounds. In the lightweight co-headliner, former Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez takes on the notoriously dangerous Edson Barboza. The rest of the four-fight main card features a heavyweight clash pitting Francis Ngannou against Bojan Mihajlovic and a women’s strawweight tilt pairing Felice Herrig with Kailin Curran.
Let us take a closer look at each UFC on Fox 20 matchup, with analysis and picks:
Women’s BantamweightsHolly Holm (10-1) vs. Valentina Shevchenko (12-2)
THE MATCHUP: After beating Holm to win the title, Miesha Tate took a dangerous fight for her first defense and lost. Holm may be flirting with the same risk herself as she prepares to meet talented striker Shevchenko in our five-round main event.
Despite her pro boxing background, Holm is more dangerous as a kicker than a puncher. Mechanically, her style does not lend itself to hard punching unless, as Ronda Rousey did, the opponent repeatedly runs into Holm’s fists. When the opponent maintains distance, however, Holm uses her hands as a distraction, arcs her left leg up over the opponent’s shoulder, outside her field of vision, and connects with the head. She did this to Rousey, too, and finished the fight as a result.
Shevchenko is a long-range fighter. Holm’s style is fairly flexible, but Shevchenko is decidedly a counter fighter, to the extent that she struggled to capitalize on the third-round exhaustion of Amanda Nunes despite knowing she would need a finish to win. Shevchenko’s most frequent strike is the right hook. She will drag this punch after her as she retreats, clipping her advancing opponent behind the ear. She is also a powerful kicker, and she happily throws the left kick to counter her opponent’s forward movement. Though she was outworked on the ground by Nunes, Valentina is a capable wrestler with both reactive and clinch takedowns. The ability to change the location of the fight makes her relatively limited arsenal far less predictable.
Holm looks to maintain distance by using lots of movement and a variety of long-range strikes. Were she to simply stand at range and stick Shevchenko with her side kick, this might be a relatively easy fight for her. However, like many Mike Winkeljohn strikers, Holly is a slave to variety. She has never won an MMA bout without mixing up her strike output, and she will look to box with Shevchenko here, closing the distance to land rapid-fire punch combinations. That makes things interesting, as Shevchenko does her best work when the opponent leads.
THE ODDS: Holm (-215), Shevchenko (+180)
THE PICK: This fight may be difficult to predict, but one thing is almost certain: It will be slow. Holm, with her preference for long range, is not keen to press the action. Shevchenko, who relies heavily on the counter, is all but incapable of doing so. The result will be a lot of staring and feinting -- and very little pitched fighting. That type of fight lends great weight to each strike that does land, however, and Shevchenko’s strikes are typically more impactful than Holm’s. Shevchenko’s lack of finishes has very little to do with striking power -- in fact she is one of the harder hitters in this division -- and more to do with her extremely patient style. When push comes to shove, Shevchenko will be the one landing the harder shots. The pick is Shevchenko by unanimous decision.
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