UFC 231 Betting Odds, Preview: Shevchenko vs. Jedrzejczyk, Plus the Best Bet on the Card
Sergei Belski, USA Today Sports. Pictured: Joanna Jedrzejczyk
- Valentina “Bullet” Shevchenko (-350)* and Joanna Jedrzejczyk (+290) meet in the co-main event as they battle for the vacant UFC Women’s Flyweight Championship.
- Gunnar Nelson (-130) vs. Alex Oliveira (+110), Elias Theodorou (-125) vs. Eryk Anders (+105), and more round out the card for UFC 231: Holloway vs. Ortega.
Betting odds: Valentina Shevchenko vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk
- Valentina Shevchenko -340
- Joanna Jedrzejczyk +280
- Time: Approx. 11:00 p.m. ET
- Channel: UFC Pay-Per-View
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The UFC’s women’s flyweight division looks to finally get off the ground during the co-main event of this Saturday’s UFC 231: Max Holloway vs. Brian Ortega pay-per-view. Valentina “Bullet” Shevchenko (15-3 MMA, 4-2 UFC) is favored in her title bout against Joanna Jedrzejczyk (15-2 MMA, 9-2 UFC).
You can view a breakdown of Holloway vs. Ortega here.
Valentina “Bullet” Shevchenko
Standing at 5-foot-5 with a 65.5-inch reach, the Kyrgyzstani-Peruvian fighter was an undersized bantamweight (135 lbs.) but is the ideal size for the new flyweight division (125 lbs.).
Shevchenko went 3-2 at 135 lbs.; both losses were to current champion Amanda Nunes. Prior to dropping to 125 lbs., Shevchenko lost her shot at Nunes’ title via razor-thin split decision.
Entering MMA with a highly-decorated Muay Thai & kickboxing background, Shevchenko’s style is defined by her effective, if grating, counter-striking attack. She utilizes her southpaw stance, counter right hook, and well-varied kicks to ward off incoming opponents.
Shevchenko is incredibly committed to this approach — it is very rare to see her stray from her game-plan — which can be frustrating for both her opponents and fans alike. Shevchenko tends to play it safe, even in situations where it may not benefit her to do so.
“Bullet” buoys her striking attack with a well-rounded clinch and ground game. Shevchenko’s grappling is characterized by her comfort grinding in the clinch, an effective arsenal of trips and throws, and an unwillingness to put herself at risk. Shevchenko has managed at least one takedown in five of her six UFC bouts and has notched two submission victories in her UFC career.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk, no longer able to go by her beloved moniker of “Joanna Champion,” is entering this fight as an underdog for the first time since March 2015. That fight saw Joanna defeat incumbent Carla Esparza to claim the UFC Women’s Strawweight Championship (115 lbs.).
Jedrzejczyk successfully defended the title five times before suffering a shocking first-round knockout loss at the hands of Rose Namajunas. Joanna would lose the rematch with Namajunas by unanimous decision before rebounding with a decision victory of her own over Tecia Torres in July.
Like her foe, Jedrzejczyk is a Muay Thai specialist. Unlike Shevchenko, Joanna will alter her approach between pressuring and countering depending on the style-matchup. She has no problem putting herself in harm’s way to get after her opponent. While this has gotten her in trouble more than once, it’s also allowed Joanna to out-land her opponents at a near 5:2 clip**.
Joanna’s striking is supplemented by her near-limitless cardio and formidable grappling defense. The Polish former champion boasts an impressive 82% takedown defense rate and has rarely, if ever, been in trouble when on the ground. Joanna’s ability to stay active on the feet has garnered her the first through fourth highest significant strike differentials in UFC championship history.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. Yes, Shevchenko and Jedrzejczyk fought three times between 2006-2008 in amateur Muay Thai/kickboxing bouts and yes, Shevchenko won all three via decision. The rule-sets these bouts took place under were quite different than modern MMA: both fighters were heavily padded and while clinch takedowns & trips were allowed (and rewarded by the judges), the fighters were immediately stood back up on their feet.
Depending on whom you listen to, these past victories either guarantee a Shevchenko win (they don’t) or are completely meaningless (not true either).
While these fights took place a decade-plus ago — at a time when Shevchenko was a much more seasoned fighter than Jedrzejczyk — there are some important truths we can take away from them regarding size, strength, and speed.
When a fighter drops down a weight class, they typically experience a size and strength advantage in their new division. Shevchenko is listed as the shorter fighter, but possesses a two-inch reach advantage over Joanna and has a bigger, more muscular frame.
Their early fights emphasized this advantage as Valentina was able to bully Joanna in the clinch and consistently ragdoll her for takedowns. Shevchenko has continued to develop her clinch takedown game in the UFC and I’d expect her to try and employ it here.
Joanna’s takedown defense becomes lights out as the fight progresses, but she is susceptible to takedowns in the early stages of a fight (61% of takedowns landed against Joanna have come in the first two rounds). If Shevchenko can secure an early takedown, she’ll likely do everything in her power to ride out the rest of the round and take it on the judge’s scorecards.
In her first fight since moving up a weight class, history indicates Joanna will experience improved durability.
As fighters like Anthony Smith and Robert Whittaker have demonstrated recently, reducing a drastic weight cut can greatly improve a fighter’s ability to take a shot. Joanna was notorious for her weight-cutting issues at 115 lbs, and she blamed her knockout loss to Namajunas on a weight cut gone awry.
As the smaller fighter, Joanna would also typically expect to have advantages in cardio and speed. I’m just not confident those advantages apply here. Based on their previous bouts, Jedrzejczyk doesn’t have a speed advantage over Valentina. In fact, both fighters appear relatively even in that department.
Furthermore, I don’t believe the cardio gap that typically emerges between Joanna and her opponents will present itself. Valentina is very comfortable doing the absolute minimum necessary to win a round.
“Bullet” won’t tire herself out running after Joanna like previous opponents have and will also have no problem utilizing the clinch and top position to grind on Joanna as much as possible. This approach will be even more effective if Valentina gets up on the scorecards early and the onus is on Jedrzejczyk to take control of the fight.
An interesting x-factor heading into this bout is that Shevchenko is a teammate of Rose Namajunas and served as a key training partner for both of Rose’s fights with Joanna. While this is Joanna’s first MMA fight camp focused on Valentina, Shevchenko will ostensibly have three camps’ worth of experience training for Joanna when they finally meet in the cage.