Thursday, 30 July 2015

Prospect Watch: Valentina "The Bullet" Shevchenko

                                                                                   Photo Credit: Photographix 

Kyrgystanian Bantamweight Valentina "The Bullet" Shevchenko seems to be on track to the UFC, having already garnered interest from Dana White himself.

A Nak muay and Kickboxer with a professional record of 56-0, Shevchenko has successfully adapted her skillset to MMA, amassing a record of 9-1.

There is some confusion about her record - A loss in MMA competition to Liz Carmouche is often counted as a Shootboxing fight and placed on her Kickboxing record, but the promotion that ran the event (C3 Fights) is an MMA promotion and there is footage available of an MMA fight that took place on the same card.

Shevchenko started her MMA career in 2003, sporadically crushing various debuting or 1-0 cans, but only recently has she expressed a desire to seriously persue MMA. Unfortunately there is little available footage from her MMA career, so my analysis will draw mostly from her Kickboxing/Muay Thai bouts.

Shevchenko is a prototypical outfighter, preferring to set up just outside of her opponent's punching range but still close enough to step in and counter kicks. Most of her favored weapons at range are typical of a southpaw kickboxer - the left straight, left kick to the body and head, and a versatile, looping right hook she uses both as a counter and a tool to close distance.

Shevchenko excels both on the outside and in the clinch. She spends little time at boxing range, instead preferring to strike directly into the clinch from outside. In order to strike into the clinch from far away without endangering herself, she'll step her lead foot in deep to the outside of her opponent's lead foot, shortening the distance her left straight needs to cover in order to land.

To set this up, she'll often circle to her left and, once her opponent begins moving with her, combine the outside step with a jab that comes at an upward trajectory, obscuring their vision and blinding them to the outside step, before hammering them with a left straight.

She'll also combine the outside step with a lead hook, thrown either with intention to land or as a hand trap, pulling her opponent's hand out of the path of her straight.

Although a versatile striker capable of pressuring when she wants to, Shevchenko prefers to let her opponents come to her and counter their attacks.

If they allow her to control the range and try to kick with her, she'll step in as they throw and counter their kicks.

If they try to force the action and pressure her, she'll counter with a looping lead hook before pivoting to the inside or outside and launching a combination in return.

She also likes to secure the clinch by dipping down on her right hook and letting it continue past the point of impact to wrap around the head, while she traps her opponent's rear arm with her head.

She's great at countering off her own kicks. She retracts her kick directly into her stance and is immediately ready to resume her attack, often throwing a punch as soon as her leg touches down. Her opponent, expecting a brief reset, presses forward and runs into a punch.

Shevchenko's Taekwondo experience shows in her kicking form. Instead of stepping into her kicks as is the norm in Muay Thai, she pivots directly on her leg without a forward step. This takes some of the power off, but it allows her to kick much faster and with no telegraph. She's able to consistently land kicks to the body without first setting them up due to the speed it affords her. She also modifies the technique to allow her to use her kicks as a counter off the back foot. When driven backwards, she'll execute a hopping pivot - she'll push off her back foot and hop, touching her lead foot down at a 90 degree angle to its starting position as she kicks.

Here her opponent attempts a front kick and Shevchenko steps in with a right hook to jam it. She pulls away from a straight and her opponent steps in with a shifting right hook, but Shevchenko's hopping pivot allows her to land a kick before the hook lands, and she deflects the hook with her forearm.

Her spinning back kick is characterized by a similar lack of a forward step and a hopping pivot off the back foot.

Although she is perfectly capable of stepping into it, sacrificing speed and concealment for devastating power.

Here is an example of Shevchenko employing a classic double attack - she flashes the left straight and throws a kick to the body. Her opponent attempts to slip inside the straight and the kick lands on her arm. Shevchenko again flashes the straight and this time her opponent is ready for the body kick - she bends her knees to brace against the kick and holds her forearms in position to block it, but Shevchenko's kick goes high and she ends up ducking into a headkick

Shevchenko has an assortment of flashy yet effective kicks, including a question mark kick, axe kick, and a spinning back kick she throws off a missed roundhouse.

Her head movement is deceptively effective. All too often in MMA you'll see fighters who are diligent about moving their head until the punches start flying. Shevchenko keeps her head bolt upright when moving around at range, but she takes her head off-line well when she attacks and she's always ready to slip and counter.

Throws and trips from the clinch are an important aspect of her Muay Thai and Kickboxing game (even when the kickboxing ruleset doesn't permit throws, she doesn't particularly care) and she demonstrated the ability to employ them in MMA in her vicory over Jan Finney.

In the clinch, she's constantly pivoting and throwing her opponent off balance looking to deny them opportunities for throws and strikes, while creating openings to land her own.

The only footage available showing Shevchenko defending takedowns comes from her fight with 2-2 Hellen Bastos, but it's enough to confirm that her takedown defense is at least competent. She defends the single leg by limp-legging out of it and is able to get her hips back in time to defend the double leg after missing a kick. The last sequence shows her using a whizzer and crossface to crush Bastos' posture while pivoting away to kill her positioning on the shot.

This fight also contains the only footage of Shevchenko on her back - she was swept from deep half-guard and had her guard passed to side control. She was able to defend an armbar attempt and get back to half-guard. From there Bastos passed to mount and Shevchenko was able to reverse the position and end up on top.

Valentina Shevchenko is already one of the top strikers in women's MMA and possesses solid clinch grappling along with a familiarity of the ground game. Fighters in the women's Bantamweight division tend to be one-dimensional and even those with more than one dimension have issues phase-shifting: Miesha Tate, for example, is either in wrestling mode or striking mode. Shevchenko has already shown the ability to transition seamlessly from striking in the clinch to throwing her opponent. Her ground game needs some work, but Shevchenko currently has the skills to be a top 10 Bantamweight and the potential to break into the top 5 and contend for the title.

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