UFC 231: Women's flyweight division finally gets clarity with Valentina

At the end of the day, all is right in the women’s flyweight division. Despite a minor hiccup where a panic move by UFC would see the belt fought for at UFC 230 in New York, the company decided to hold off on pitting Valentina Shevchenko against Sjiara Eubanks and instead went with its original plan of having “Bullet” face Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 231 in Toronto this Saturday. 

After stripping Nico Montano of the belt following a weight cutting issue ahead of her fight with Shevchenko scheduled for UFC 228 in September, the women’s flyweight division has been in a bit of holding pattern. But once Shevchenko and Jedrzejczyk step inside the Octagon on Saturday night, those questions and qualms of creating a division out of thin air should all be answered. 

Jedrzejczyk, the former women’s strawweight champion, is finally moving to a more natural division after years of difficult cuts. 

“The camp is going much better and I’m feeling much better. I’m full of energy everyday. We are at the end of the camp, I can be tired and I might be tired, but this camp was amazing,” Jedrzejczyk told CBS Sports. “This camp I realized how beautiful it is to fight at your natural weight because I was a 125er when I was competing back in the day in Muay Thai or boxing before I became a UFC fighter.

“I was never complaining about the diet or weight cuts, but now I can see how much being on a strict diet for so many weeks and the weight cut can impact your body, your brain and your performance. I brought my physical therapist and when he saw me four weeks before the fight, he was like ‘I have never seen you in shape like this.’ My body can recover faster, I can burn more calories, I can push harder because of the higher weight class.”

Jedrzejczyk is coming off a decisive decision win over Tecia Torres in July, which was a nice bounce back after consecutive losses to now 115-pound champion Rose Namajunas. While her focus is now on Shevchenko, Jedrzejczyk learned about where her focus should be after suffering her first two defeats in UFC at the hands of Namajunas.

“I’m focused on what I can do better and I’m focused on my next fight, but I learned that I should trust more my intuition and myself. I have very good people around me, great coaches, my family, my friends are big supporters of me,” Jedrzejczyk said. “This sport is all about trust you know because in the final day, the final night before a fight or the match, we don’t have colleagues who can help us, so sometimes we don’t feel 100 percent these days, it’s all about our mental state. 

“We are the only people who have to deal with it. I learned to trust more in myself and my people because some people who think they are with you are not with you. They are taking care of their business. I’m trying to keep my eyes more open and listen and do what’s best for me. Some mistakes were made before my first fight with Rose and I took a big lesson from it.”

Shevchenko, meanwhile, is looking to breakthrough for her first title win after dropping a close decision to bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes in 2017. In her only bout at 125 pounds in UFC to date, Shevchenko looked as dominant as ever, submitting Priscilla Cachoeira in the second round in February. The two fighters have spoken a lot about the Muay That bouts they fought in over a decade ago in the lead up to this fight, but Jedrzejczyk is certain those are behind her.

“Of course it does not affect me. It was 10 years ago. I faced Valentina Shevchenko in 2006 after two years of training only. I went to Thailand for Muay Thai World Championships and I faced her in the first bout, and it’s a tournament bout, so you lose and you’re out,” Jedrzejczyk said. “That time, I felt that I was going to win gold, but I realize how much work was behind me. I was looking forward to becoming better and better athlete. 

“She has been training since she was a little girl, I know this time it’s going to be different. This time, I’m a different animal, different athlete, different person, very strong physically, mentally, fighting in the best organization in the world and I’m ready, I will get this belt home. I can see how I’m improving with every camp in a new weight, in a new division.”

Whether or not those bouts play in on Saturday, the certainty is that a division seemingly formed out of thin air will get clarity. After crowning Germain de Randamie the women’s featherweight champion following a win over Holly Holm at UFC 208, the company never formally put out a top-15 ranking for the division. Even now, there is still no rankings to be found outside of Cris Cyborg being the reigning champion. 

But armed with a division full of fighters who either struggled to cut down to 115 or weren’t built for 135, the women’s flyweight division has much to look forward to.