Valentina Shevchenko (Rob Tatum/Combat Press)

Women’s MMA Weekend Preview: Maia, Lipski and the Shevchenko Sisters at UFC 255

Let’s start this week with a big downer. Invicta FC 43 is this week — Friday, to be exact — and as a contracted Invicta FC fighter myself, I do not break those fights down. There is a conflict of interest there. However, make sure to tune in for that show. The card is highlighted by Emily Ducote and Montserrat Ruiz for the strawweight title, and Kayla Harrison makes her Invicta debut as she faces Courtney King.

In addition, I will not break down the UFC 255 bout between Katlyn Chookagian and Cynthia Calvillo. Chookagian is a training partner, and I worked with her leading up to the fight. Anything I say will have a bias to it, and I will be rooting for Katlyn.

We still have two fights at UFC 255 to talk about, each featuring a Shevchenko sister, so let’s get started.


Valentina Shevchenko vs. Jennifer Maia

In Valentina, we have one of the top two or three fighters in the world, and I would argue with no one who calls her the best. The reigning UFC women’s flyweight champion is a huge favorite in this fight, and I can’t imagine anyone is picking her to lose. Can she lose? Is there any way Maia can beat her? Yes, there is. Is it likely? No, it’s not.

What is the biggest obstacle that could prevent Valentina from losing Saturday? The answer to that is her sister, Antonina. Allow me to explain. Antonina fights earlier in the card in a tough match-up with Ariane Lipski. Valentina will no doubt be watching her sister’s fight. When we have a friend, a teammate, or training partner fighting and we watch that fight, we get emotionally invested. We experience the highs and lows of that fight. Also, we can get a little adrenaline rush while watching them. Could that affect Valentina?

Let me give an example, one that is not entirely the same, but sort of fits here. I will take you back to February for Invicta FC 39. I was the second fight on the card, and Monica Franco was the first fight. Monica and I have the same manager and are very good friends. So, all fight week, there was a small group of us doing everything together. Franco was a huge underdog and no one thought she could win, but those of us who knew that, as the fighter she is now, she had a great chance at winning. So, she is in the cage fighting, and I am on deck. At Memorial Hall, when you are on deck, you get brought up before the previous fight ends, so you are ready for your walkout. There are screens up where, if you look out, you can kind of see them and see the action. So, there I am trying everything I can to see those screens and see what is happening. I wanted so bad for her to prove everyone wrong. My angle was not great to see enough to know who was winning. Then, I heard announcer Joe Martinez say, “30-26, 30-27, 30-27, for your winner… from Honolulu, Hawaii,” and before he could even say Monica’s name, me and my corners yelled with excitement. It gave me a little boost of energy. What if she had lost? Would it have had the opposite effect? Thankfully, I didn’t have to find out.

Now, let’s take that to an even bigger scenario. Franco was just my close friend. Valentina and Antonina are sisters. If Antonina wins, then Valentina will experience excitement. If Antonina loses, maybe it has a bad effect on her. Maybe it gets in her head. Maybe it messes with her focus. Furthermore, Antonia fights much earlier in the card, so Valentina will surely get up for her fight, get that adrenaline flowing, then have to bring herself back down, get calmed and relaxed, and then have to build back up to that for her fight. Maybe that up-and-down-and-up-again range of emotion could affect her. Is my example perfect? Of course not, friends and sisters are not the same. Is this a huge stretch? Yes, for sure. However, I like to try to give ways each person can win a fight, and if I am being honest, I am having trouble finding ways to envision Valentina losing. This is the best scenario I could imagine.

Now, how can Maia win? Listen, she’s not going to take a decision. She’s not winning three out of five rounds against Valentina. She’s also not knocking out the champ. Maia hits hard, but her footwork and movement are going to get her eaten up against an elite striker like Valentina. We won’t have WWE refs who don’t notice a foreign object in the tights, so that leaves one thing: submissions. Maia is an outstanding grappler. She needs to get this fight to the ground by any means necessary. She doesn’t want to be in the clinch with Valentina, so she will need to take a risk, rush forward while throwing punches, and hope she can maybe get a trip takedown or come in under Valentina’s strikes and scoop a double leg. If Maia gets it to the ground, she has to be tricky. She needs to try to make Valentina think she is going for one thing and then switch to another. This is really the only way I see Maia pulling this off.

Antonina Shevchenko vs. Ariane Lipski

Antonina comes in having lost two of her last three, most recently in a decision to Katlyn Chookagian. Even though her last win was a submission over Lucie Pudilová, she isn’t a grappler. She’s not looking to get a fight to the ground.

In Lipski, Antonina has someone who will be willing to give her the kind of fight she wants. This could be a very violent affair. If I am Antonina, I might want to fight as much of this contest as possible in the clinch. If she can put Lipski’s back on the cage, she has very good strikes, knees, elbows and punches that she can utilize to maybe break down Lipski. Lipski is very aggressive, and I feel like Antonina has the technique advantage. Antonina can maybe use that aggression of Lipski against her — let Lipski come forward, maybe a bit recklessly, and counter her. The body could be good for Antonina to target, as well as leg kicks. When someone is throwing wild punches to the head, they leave that body open. Attack it. Meanwhile, the leg kicks are going to maybe slow down Lipski and make her a more stationary target. If these two ladies are just standing in front of each other, then it’s technique against technique, and Antonina is going to win that battle nine times out of 10.

Lipski comes in as the winner of two straight. Again, she is all too happy to stand and bang. I expect she will do exactly that here, as she wants the challenge of fighting such a great Muay Thai fighter. So, let’s say that is what she does. She’ll have to make it a brawl and not let Antonina use her technique. She has to just make it ugly, but avoid the clinch game of Antonina. Lipski should come forward and throw, but then back up and reset if she feels Antonina reaching for that Thai clinch.

What I would actually like to see Lipski do is to give Antonina a stand-up fight in the first round and get her comfortable in thinking that is what the fight is going to be. Then, in round two, Lipski should take her down. Lipski is better on the ground. She has some submissions on her resume, including a beautiful kneebar in her last fight against Luana Carolina. She needs to get on top of Antonina and look for submissions or ground-and-pound. Even if she can’t finish the fight, she’d be sure to win the round. Depending on what happened in round one, she’s at least going to be even, one round apiece.

By round three, Lipski will have introduced the fear of the takedown into Antonina, which means Shevchenko will maybe be a bit hesitant in what could be the deciding round. This means Lipski has options. If Antonina is hesitant and throws less, then the Brazilian can see how the stand-up is going and maybe use that hesitancy to take the round on the feet. If that’s not happening, then Lipski can go get that takedown again, stay on top, and look once more for those submissions or ground-and-pound.

We all want finishes. We all want to finish everyone we fight, and Lipski should as well. However, the Brazilian has to be willing to out-point Antonina and take a decision.

That’s all for this week. Enjoy the fights!