Entering the UFC 255 co-main event as high as a -2000 betting favorite, the only surprise of Valentina Shevchenko's flyweight championship defense proved to be the stubbornness and durability of Jennifer Maia.
Shevchenko (20-3) made the fourth defense of her 125-pound title on Saturday without ever truly falling into danger. But she was challenged enough in the grappling game and, at times, in the standup for Maia to raise her stock in a unanimous decision loss (49-46 on all three scorecards) inside the UFC Apex facility.
Maia (18-7-1) clearly won the second round by winning the standing clinch and eventually taking Shevchenko down. Her surprising success seemed to spark a spirit of urgency within the dominant champion as Shevchenko was much more aggressive on her feet over the final three rounds.
Shevchenko began to land her heavy left cross at will against Maia although the 32-year-old Brazilian never fell and mixed in counter shots of her own. The sustained damage added up, however, as Maia closed the fight with swelling on her face and a bloodied nose.
"I'm happy it went five rounds," Shevchenko said. "After a long layoff, I needed to feel the spirit of the fight in the Octagon. [Maia] knows that I am healthy now and 100 percent after injury. I'm glad it was Jennifer Maia first because she was all business and pushed me. I knew Jennifer would be a hard opponent. I watched her and knew her body type. She was never giving up and I knew it would be a good fight for the belt."
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Shevchenko, who spent most of 2020 recovering from MCL surgery on her knee, joined her older sibling Antonina on this night by making UFC history as the first sisters to fight on the same card. Both proved victorious in the end, to boot, as Antonina scored a second-round TKO of Ariane Lipski on the undercard.
"Antonina had such an amazing victory today," Shevchenko said. "Everything was so perfect, no mistakes or anything. In my opinion, she deserves the performance of the night."
Shevchenko, 32, continued to cement her status as one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the sport, regardless of gender, with the victory. The native of Kyrgyzstan showed the full package throughout the fight by regularly taking Maia down and showcasing her pinpoint striking accuracy on the feet.
"I knew that [Maia] was going to be tough," Shevchenko said. "I watched her previous fight and knew it would take something certain or very, very super heavy to make her fall."