Ever since Holly Holm headkicked Ronda Rousey into unconsciouness last November there has a been a power vacuum atop the UFC's women's bantamweight division.
The belt has been strapped across the waists of Holm, Miesha Tate and, now, Amanda Nunes in the last eight months with no one seemingly capable of establishing themselves as the division's elite in Rousey's absense. Holly Holm seemed like she would be that person after her decisive destruction of the previously undefeated former champion, but this is a sport with a lot of ways to lose and lose she did when Holm attempted to defend her title for the first time against Miesha Tate.
Tate, a fighter who has two losses on her record to Ronda Rousey and who had considered retirement less than a year ago, dropped the title in a first round loss to Amanda Nunes in the improbable main event of UFC 200. As for how long the she will hold the title in anyone's guess at this point, but it's fair to say that there is something of a game of musical chairs in the women's 135lb division.
The prize for the winner? A date with Ms. Rousey and a headline slot on a Pay-Per-View, whenever she decides to end her self-imposed hiatus.
As for who will be champion when Rousey does return is anyone's guess at this point but the picture at the top of the division will look a bit clearer this weekend once we see how Holly Holm and Valentina Shevchenko fare in their main event bout on Saturday's UFC On Fox 20 card in Chicago.
"I don't want to just participate. I want to dominate." @HollyHolm 😱@JoeRogan previews the #UFCChicago headliner https://t.co/lwc9uQPbjr
— UFC (@ufc) July 22, 2016
Analysing Holm vs Shevchenko
The first fight back after a loss - particularly a loss in a title fight - is always interesting to see. Holly Holm was cruising in her first title defense against Miesha Tate earlier this year. Up on the scorecards by three rounds to one, the former professional boxer just needed to see out the final two minutes of the fight and she would defend her title.
One rear-naked-choke later, Holm was passed out on the canvas and Tate was celebrating on top of the cage. Things move fast in mixed martial arts.
It's often said that if you don't have any losses on your record then you are not fighting the correct level of competiton, such is the myriad amount of ways to lose in this sport. Another well worn adage suggests that it's the true measure of a fighter to see how the respond to a defeat. What's interesting about Holly Holm and Valentina Shevchenko is that they are both coming into Saturday's fight on the back of losses.
Holm's surprise defeat to Miesha Tate and Shevchenko's to Tate's conqeuror and new champion Amanda Nunes underline exactly how competetive women's MMA has become and, as well, the status it has achieved since the two women's divisions were opened in the UFC (after Saturday, two of the last three UFC events will have been headlined by women).
Both Holm and Shevchenko are very well matched fighters. With a 33-2-3 record in professional boxing and numerous world titles to her name, Holly Holm is as accoladed a striker that mixed martial arts has ever seen. Shevchenko, too, has a storied background in the fighting arts, having compiled a 58-2-1 record in professional kickboxing and it's exactly this type of match-up which makes the sport of MMA so fascinating to watch.
Holm will look to employ a more traditional boxing-centric approach focusing on crisp striking from angles, while Kyrgyzstan-born Shevchenko will atempt to unleash her more muay thai oriented style. Of the two, it's Shevchenko who boasts the more diverse submission game but to suggest that this will be a grappling-heavy fight will probably be off the mark.
Both fighters like to fight from range. Holm prefers to dictate the pace from the outside, always maintaining control of the range between the two fighters. Shevchenko, on the other hands, tends to be a bit more varied in her approach, aggressively seeking out the clinch to throw knees and elbows. She also has a fondness for spinning kicks, just as Holm favours the left high kick - the same one which separated Ronda Rousey from her senses.
This matchup favours Holm so long as she is able to utilise her footwork to keep Shevchenko at bay. The money fight in the women's bantamweight division is Ronda Rousey and, Amanda Nunes aside, a win her for Holm will put her at the top of the line.
Expect her to do just that.