The UFC women’s flyweight title picture was thrown into a state of disarray following last weekend’s UFC 228 event.
Nicco Montano was slated to defend her belt against No. 1 contender Valentina Shevchenko in the co-main event. The bout was called off, however, after Montano’s weight cut went awry. The now former champion was hospitalized. Per a statement from Montano’s team to Marc Raimondi of MMAFighting.com, the fighter had issues regarding her kidney function during the weight cut. Montano told Aaron Bronsteter of TSN that doctors said she could have gone into cardiac arrest had she continued her weight cut.
The UFC stripped Montano of her title. It’s pretty clear the promotion will give Shevchenko a shot at a vacant belt. The only question is who her opponent will be.
What We Know
Montano was stripped of her title and Shevchenko will be given a title shot. The UFC will almost surely make Montano win a fight or two before she gets another shot at the title, or there would’ve been no point of stripping her in the first place.
The UFC women’s flyweight division is still in its infancy, only really being built up in December 2017 following The Ultimate Fighter. As such, it’s still a wide open division where a good win or two could lead to a title shot.
We also know that the UFC and Shevchenko want the title fight to take place before the end of 2018. That means unless fights are cancelled to make it work, some top contenders are eliminated by default from earning the shot at the vacant title. Let’s look at a couple of those fights:
- Sijara Eubanks vs. Jessica Eye (December 29 at UFC 232)
- Andrea Lee vs. Jessica-Rose Clark (December 15 at UFC on FOX 31)
So, unless a fight is scrapped because the UFC wants one of those women to fight Shevchenko, the winners of those fights could hope to be in line for the winner of the title fight. With No. 2-ranked Eubanks having a fight lined up, who could Shevchenko fight then?
Potential Opponents for Valentina Shevchenko
Chookagian is currently the No. 3-ranked flyweight, and the highest ranked fighter Shevchenko could realistically face by the end of the year. “Blonde Fighter” hinted that she was in Dallas and willing to fight Shevchenko. The bout didn’t materialize then, but it could by the end of the year.
Chookagian is 11-1 overall and 4-1 in the UFC. She is also 2-0 as a flyweight with wins over Alexis Davis and Mara Romero Borella. Her lone pro loss came to Liz Carmouche at bantamweight, though Carmouche has also dropped down to flyweight. Chookagian is a two-weight CFFC champ (flyweight and bantamweight) and could fight Shevchenko for the UFC title.
Carmouche is the No. 6-ranked flyweight and is 1-1 in the weight class. Her loss was a tight split decision loss to Alexis Davis. She rebounded with a clear unanimous decision win over Invicta FC flyweight champion Jennifer Maia.
She can also say she has something that only Amanda Nunes can also claim: a win over Shevchenko. In 2010, Carmouche landed an upkick on Shevchenko that cut her, and the fight was stopped. “The Bullet” said it was an illegal kick. She likely wouldn’t mind avenging that loss, though. Davis has since lost to Chookagian and Carmouche picked up a win, so the UFC may consider booking a rematch.
Modafferi dominated Barb Honchak in her last bout en route to a TKO. That came on the heels of her title fight with Montano to determine the first UFC women’s flyweight queen. If the UFC were inclined to book Shevchenko vs. Modafferi, fans could see the fight that could’ve happened had Modafferi defeated Montano. She has the same UFC flyweight record as Carmouche, but is ranked higher as the #4 flyweight.
Jedrzejczyk is the dark horse but the fan favorite to earn the title shot. The former strawweight queen fought Shevchenko three times in Muay Thai, but a title shot could mark the start of the pair’s MMA encounters. Jedrzejczyk lost her belt to Rose Namajunas last year via TKO and came up short in a rematch back in April. Following the close fight, Jedrzejczyk got back in the win column with a decisive win over Tecia Torres.
Jedrzejczyk has expressed interest in pursuing her strawweight title, but the next shot will likely go to Jessica Andrade who KO’d Karolina Kowalkiewicz at UFC 228. That could pique her interest in a flyweight title fight against Shevchenko.
Ariel Helwani of ESPN suggested this was the fight to make, drawing criticism from flyweights Chookagian and Jessica-Rose Clark based on the fact Jedrzejczyk has never fought at flyweight in the UFC.
So, the women’s flyweight title is vacant.
Valentina Shevchenko should obviously fight for the belt, and if you ask me there’s only one person you can book her against that will get this division back on track … pic.twitter.com/PpUFd2Vlgz
— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) September 7, 2018
How would that get it “back on track”? Putting someone who’s had one fight at 125, against someone who’s never fought in th division, for OUR title?
What about the girls working their way through. @jessicaevileye @SarJnCharge @Roxyfighter and the rest of us
Don’t talk this BS https://t.co/lXHCADv0Qe
— Jessy Jess (@missjessyjess) September 8, 2018
— Katlyn Chookagian (@blondefighter) September 8, 2018
For Shevchenko’s role in this, she told Helwani on Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show that she’d prefer to fight Jedrzejczyk of all available options on account of Jedrzejczyk being a “real professional fighter.”
Shevchenko and Montano Beef
After the fight between the two fell through, Shevchenko had some words for Montano on social media. She said she wasn’t surprised that Montano pulled out of the fight because she felt she’s been avoiding her and that it was the third time she’s prepared for Montano. Shevchenko doesn’t believe in Montano’s fighting spirit and said she lacks professionalism.
Montano didn’t take too kindly and returned fire in a loaded statement. She refuted the idea that she went to the hospital because she was scared, but that it was due to her kidneys shutting down and a dangerous imbalance of electrolytes. The former champ went on to call Shevchenko a “lying bully,” “egomaniac,” “heartless” and more.
MMAFighting.com’s Luke Thomas read Montano’s statement to Shevchenko on a recent episode of The MMA Hour. “The Bullet” could not help but laugh following what she heard and told Thomas that, “it makes me laugh so hard. It’s the most funny post I’ve ever heard in all my life.”
Shevchenko told Helwani on his show that she’s moving on from the Montano fight for now.
“If at some point she will show that she deserves this fight, that she really knows where she’s going and is ready for this fight — I think she is not ready for this fight, but if in the future she will show it, I will think about it,” Shevchenko told Helwani.
The beef between the two has made the fight all the more compelling if it were to happen at some point. But it sounds like Shevchenko is only interested if Montano wins a couple of more fights.
What’s Next? 2018 and Beyond
It remains to be seen who will fight Shevchenko for the vacant title by the end of the year. It’s safe to say whoever wins between Shevchenko and the TBD opponent will defend the title in the first half of 2019.
One scenario could be the winner of Shevchenko vs. TBD to defend against the winner of Eubanks vs. Eye. Whoever doesn’t get a title shot between Chookagian, Modafferi and Carmouche are also in the immediate title picture. Hypothetically, we could see a scenario like this play out:
- Shevchenko vs. Chookagian (late 2018)
- Shevchenko/Chookagian winner vs. Eye/Eubanks winner (early 2019)
- Modafferi vs. Carmouche (early 2019)
Of course, you’d have to figure Montano is still in the mix at the top of the heap. Depending on when she can return, a fight with someone like Carmouche, Davis, Joanne Calderwood, the Clark/Lee winner or even the Eye/Eubanks winner are all possibilities.
Beyond that, it’s hard to figure out how the title picture will look, as MMA is as unpredictable as it gets. The UFC women’s flyweight title picture will be an interesting one to keep an eye on.
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