Valentina Shevchenko in eerily similar situation to peak Ronda Rousey

LAS VEGAS — Ronda Rousey was a star from the first moment she competed in the UFC, but her star really went to the next level after she knocked out Bethe Correira at UFC 190.

She defeated Correia with strikes on Aug. 1, 2015, in 34 seconds. It made her 12-0 as a pro and counting UFC 190, her previous three came in a combined total of 64 seconds.

That night, a slew of A-list celebrities were watching Rousey and took to Twitter to sing her praises.

Little did they know that would be her final win. Rousey fought at UFC 193 on Nov. 15, 2015, in Australia as one of the two or three biggest stars in all of combat sports at the time. She was a massive favorite against Holly Holm, but was dominated and knocked out a minute into the second round.

She fought once more, and didn’t last a minute, getting obliterated by Amanda Nunes in 48 seconds. She’s never fought again.

The ending of her story should serve as a cautionary tale to all fighters, that no matter how good it’s going that things can change quickly.

Flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko enters her bout with Lauren Murphy at UFC 266 on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in a situation eerily similar to Rousey: Shevchenko is an overwhelming favorite, arguably the greatest female fighter of all-time and is seen as farther ahead of the field than Secretariat at the 1973 Belmont.

The only fight that could be made now for her that wouldn’t have her as a massive favorite is a third one with Nunes.

“I’m not against it, but I’d have to sit down and talk with them and see what they want to do,” UFC president Dana White said of a potential Nunes-Shevchenko 3.

JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA - APRIL 24: Valentina Shevchenko of Kyrgyzstan reacts after defeating Jessica Andrade of Brazil in their UFC women's flyweight championship bout during the UFC 261 event at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena on April 24, 2021 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)
Flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko is a massive -1600 favorite at BetMGM to defend her title against Laurne Murphy on Saturday at UFC 266 in Las Vegas. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC) (Josh Hedges via Getty Images)

Shevchenko is unique among UFC fighters. She’s never satisfied, never looks ahead and is constantly evolving, both as a fighter and a person.

If there is one elite fighter who won’t fall off the cliff like Rousey, it’s Shevchenko.

“It’s all about one’s approach to a fight,” Shevchenko said. “Approach in how you prepare for the fight. Approach in how you think what may be dangerous. In my opinion, if you’re getting ready for every single fight the same way you were getting ready for fights in the beginning, nothing is going to change. If you understand that there are no easy opponents, if you understand that every situation can bring you hard positions, and you know how to deal with that and you push yourself to the limit every single training [session] in every single training camp, it’s a different approach.

“It’s not, ‘Oh, I’m a star here. I’m a champion and everyone has to fall.’ No. No one wants to fall. Everyone wants to fight you [as champion] and take your place. If you understand that truth, you will dominate them if you have enough power.”

In her glory days, Rousey was ending fights so quickly that there wasn’t much chance to see, much less exploit, her weaknesses. The women at that time didn’t really know how to deal with her judo and she was able to catch nearly all of them in arm bars and force submissions.

Holm was a boxing world champion who knew she had better striking than Rousey, but had to find a way to get to a striking contest. The way to do that was to negate her judo. She did it and the fight was a no-contest.

The women’s division has gotten deeper and more talented over the last five years and Shevchenko faces legitimate threats each time out.

And she never limits herself. She’s not satisfied with what she’s done and she legitimately enjoys the process. To her, it’s a contest with herself to see how much she can improve and how good she can become.

It’s why she sloughs off all talk of retirement or goals other than simply winning the fight at hand.

“If someone has already put in plans and put in a limit to their career, they’re done already,” she said, “because they’re beginning to count minutes, seconds toward their end. I don’t want that to happen. I want to do everything that I can the best way that I can for the most time I can. It’s why I never put a certain date out there that I’ll be done. This is a beautiful time in my life and I don’t want it to end soon, so [I’ll never do that].”