Post-Fight Thoughts: Valentina Shevchenko -vs- Jessica Eye
Had I written a Pre-Fight Thoughts article for this fight, I would have quickly concluded that Valentina Shevchenko was poised to defend her flyweight title with the typical sort of conservative, counter-striking performance she's been turning in for a while now. While highly touted for her skills, Shevchenko hasn't exactly delivered the wealth of highlight reel finishes one would expect from such an accomplished striker. My expectation of this fight is that Jessica Eye would pose a challenge, but hardly one that Shevchenko would be unable to solve.
That all being said, I would have been dead wrong about this fight. From the opening bell, Shevchenko changed things up. After a brief period of stand-up fighting, Shevchenko secured a bodylock takedown and kept Eye pinned to the mat for the remainder of the first round. I have no idea why someone with such a pronounced striking advantage opted to wrestle for the first round, but that's what happened. It worked, it was just very unexpected — was this going to be her approach to the whole fight?
In a word: no. The second round was a strictly stand-up affair, and Shevchenko proved her dominance very quickly. Undeterred, Jessice Eye kept pressing forward despite being on the wrong end of the skill disparity between the two. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a one-sided fight turned into a massacre as Shevchenko blasted her opponent with a headkick that saw her freeze and then collapse like a toppled statue. Eye remained motionless on the octagon canvas for several minutes afterward, while Shevchenko reacted to the whole sequence like it was another day at the office.
It was one of the most striking knockouts in recent memory and, thankfully, Jessice Eye was able to recover and leave the octagon under her own power. Valentina Shevchenko wasn't exactly underappreciated prior to this fight, but this win — and the devastating manner in which she notched the victory — will certainly catapult her profile to much greater heights. Whether this indicates a shift to a more aggressive style, I cannot say — I think that would be a shock, given her long career and consistent adherence to a counter-fighting and strong defence.
More realistically, I think this outcome was a sign that Shevchenko realised her opponent, for all her toughness and determination, was significantly overmatched. We may see more performances like this from Shevchenko due to a lack of peers in terms of skill, but fundamentally I don't think she's changed as a fighter. Regardless, it was an impressive win and a KO that will be on her highlight reel — and UFC clip packages — for the indefinite future. This is exactly the sort of performance Shevchenko needed. Who she fights next, however, remains a mystery, given the relative newness of the flyweight division. At this point, I'm not confident anyone on the roster has the skills to beat "Bullet" at 125 pounds.
As for Jessica Eye, hopefully she is able to recover from this and carry on with her career. She was fighting well above her skill level, but has nothing specifically to be ashamed of. Yes, she lost, but there's not a lot to critise about her performance beyond the gap in skill. She didn't make any egregious mistakes, she got kicked in the head by a very precise, talented striker. The fan reaction to her loss was unsettling, although hardly surprising given how crass much of the MMA fanbase can be, but her reaction to the loss indicates she's not going to let this loss define her career. I believe she was rushed into this title fight; hopefully Eye can continue to develop her skills and perhaps contend for the title again down the road.
This is the fight everyone needed. Except for Jessica Eye.
Published: June 14th, 2019.