Valentina Shevchenko (17-3) may have been the experts’ favorite to win in the UFC 238 co-main event against Jessica Eye (14-7) but the manner in which the flyweight queen retained her crown was nonetheless shockingly impressive. Shevchenko beat Eye via second round head kick knockout:
— Trey Wallace (@TreyWallace_) June 9, 2019
The story of how Shevchenko set up that KO goes deeper than her lightning quick delivery of it, however. Shevchenko’s win was predicated on her increasingly varied offensive threats, pattern setting on the feet with her striking and pattern-breaking on her own terms.
Shevchenko’s world-class kickboxing skills have long been praised, and rightly so. The dangerous striker is a well-rounded mixed martial artist, capable of winning just about anywhere in the cage.
Shevchenko has a strong body lock takedown arsenal and two out of her four most recent wins have come by way of submission on the mat. It seems she’s become increasingly aware that making her opponents think of threats beyond her free-standing position striking – body lock takedowns, stifling ground control and submission holds – make her striking even more effective. The reason for this is because by mixing up her attacks she gives her opponents more to think of, deal with, and counter, and they can no longer merely focus on her strikes from the free-standing position.
Jessica Eye is a good wrestler and has good mat skills to go with her very dangerous hands. At UFC 238 Shevchenko quickly went to a range and set of positions that both nullified Eye’s dangerous standing punches, and that also had the potential to frustrate her in unexpected ways – namely in wrestling exchanges and on the mat.
Shevchenko did this with a takedown and ground control early in the first period. This approach made building momentum impossible for the challenger, protected Shevchenko from sustaining any real damage and allowed the champion to rack up points on the scorecard.
Before Shevchenko did that, however, Shevchenko did indeed begin the fight with effective stand-up striking and in so doing established an effective kicking pattern in the first round that she would alter in the second, just slightly, to devastating effect.
Prior to clinching up and taking Eye down, Shevchenko whipped and landed repeated rear-leg roundhouse kicks to the body of her opponent. Just as Eye may have been worried about taking continued damage at kicking range, Shevchenko closed the distance and changed things up on one axis, scoring her takedown.
In the second round, Shevchenko went back to her left roundhouse kick to the body right away, continuing to get Eye’s attention. The pattern had long ago been set.
Shevchenko wanted to eat up the body with her left roundhouse kick. Whereas in the first round Shevchenko used the opportunity of landed roundhouses to the body to move forward, close distances and change the terms of the fight to grappling ones, in the second round the champion stayed at distance but still broke her pattern once more, just in a different way.
Once a weapon has been established as effective and dangerous, the fighter on the receiving end can often begin to anticipate it and consciously or subconsciously adjust all sorts of things, including their blocking defense, in accordance with that anticipation. That’s not always a mistake, by any stretch of the imagination.
After all, if one is being hit repeatedly with a body kick, it very well could be because one’s arms are not in position to adequately cover it. If one’s opponent anticipates such an anticipation, however, they can break the pattern at an opportune time for themselves, and use those adjustments to open up other defensive holes and hit you by surprise.
After being hit by several hard body kicks, Eye saw another left roundhouse being readied and slightly lowered her guard, likely in preparation to better block this one, what she anticipated as yet another body kick from Shevchenko. Instead, just this one time, Shevchenko decided to change the trajectory of her left roundhouse kick at Eye as it was in mid-air, and came over the top of Eye’s guard of her body and connected to her now-exposed head.
Whereas Eye had previously covered her head adequately from potential kicks and absorbed body shots as a result, she had just adjusted to Shevchenko’s offensive pattern by lowering her guard slightly. At this moment, Shevchenko broke her pattern of body kicks by moving on the vertical axis, raising her kick slightly and hitting the defensive hole reaction her earlier pattern had set.
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