4 Ways Jennifer Maia Can Beat Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 255

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistNovember 20, 2020

4 Ways Jennifer Maia Can Beat Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 255

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Whenever a UFC pay-per-view nears, the B/R combat sports team comes together to map out ways an underdog can spring an upset.

    It's what we do.

    Our inkling that Justin Gaethje could break through against Tony Ferguson looks darn good these days, while our long-shot cases for Felicia Spencer against Amanda Nunes and Paulo Costa over Israel Adesanya don't.

    This time, as Jennifer Maia challenges for a flyweight title, it's a particularly long shot.

    In fact, odds posted by DraftKings suggest it would take a prodigious $1,667 bet on Valentina Shevchenko to yield a measly $100 profit if the champ retains her belt and a $100 wager on Maia to make a tidy $850 if the challenger wins.

    So, if an upset occurs, it would be a big one.

    As big as it gets, really.

    Because Shevchenko hasn't lost to anyone not named Nunes across 10 fights inside the Octagon, putting forth ways in which Maia can snatch her jewelry is a bit of a task. But we like it that way. And since a blind squirrel does occasionally find a nut, it's her cause we'll take up.

    So in the spirit of Holly Holm, Forrest Griffin and Keith Jardine—architects of three of the UFC's biggest surprises over Ronda Rousey, Shogun Rua and Chuck Liddell, respectively—we assembled a short list of ways in which the third-ranked contender might walk away in title-winning style come Saturday evening.

    If you're optimistic about what many people dismiss as a lost competitive cause, click through to see if our ideas jibe with yours. And if you're riding with Team Bullet, don't say we didn't warn you.

Push the Pace

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    If you're thinking about climbing a mountain, you seek out someone who's climbed a mountain.

    If you're thinking about beating Valentina Shevchenko, you find someone who's beaten Valentina Shevchenko. And when it comes to the UFC, that can only mean Amanda Nunes.

    The dual champ vanquished the Kyrgyzstan native twice over an 18-month stretch between 2016 and 2017, toppling her by unanimous decision in three rounds on the Conor McGregor-Nate Diaz undercard at UFC 196 and then by split verdict across 25 minutes in a bantamweight title match atop UFC 215.

    They're the only two fights Shevchenko has lost since arriving to the UFC in 2015.

    So it's hardly shocking that Maia might want to bend the Brazilian's ear before Saturday's showdown.

    The two got in touch through a mutual friend, Maia told Sherdog.com, which prompted Nunes to leave her a detailed phone message in which she stressed the importance of leading the dance.

    "She told me to not let Valentina be comfortable leading the fight," Maia said, "and impose my rhythm."

    Toward that end, Maia is unbeaten in three fights that have gone main-event distance, dating back to her Invicta FC days when she defeated Vanessa Porto (UD), Roxanne Modafferi (SD) and Agnieszka Niedzwiedz (UD) in consecutive bouts across 21 months between 2016 and 2017.

    She arrived to the UFC in July 2018 and was 2-2 in four three-rounders before submitting Joanne Calderwood in just over four minutes in her most recent outing in August.

    But Maia says her impressive cardio past is this weekend's prologue.

    "If you see all three of my five-round fights in Invicta," she said, "you will see that I also grow in the final rounds."

Change the Game

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    The element of surprise. 

    It's important when planning a memorable birthday party.

    And when trying to concoct a strategy that'll topple a 1-17 favorite in an MMA match, it's mandatory.

    Lest anyone forget, Shevchenko has done nearly everything in the sport. She turned pro at age 15, won a championship at age 30 and along the way has beaten all manner of opposition by knockout, submission and decision—while losing to just two of the 21 women she's fought.

    One of them is the consensus best female fighter of all time, Amanda Nunes.

    So saying she's seen it all is an understatement. Which means coming with something new, and thereby deviating from a game plan that the champ might have been prepared for in camp, is a sound approach.

    Maia's on it.

    "(Shevchenko) is very intelligent and reads your game plan very well, mainly when you keep doing a similar sequence," she told Sherdog.com. "And we worked pretty hard to bring some surprises to her."

Embrace the Challenge

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Let's face it, a key element to any huge upset is an unyielding belief.

    And to suggest Maia has that and then some would be right on point.

    The spirited Brazilian is coached by her husband, Edcarlos Monstro, and their team will reach cageside in Las Vegas after a training camp fueled by emotion and camaraderie alongside the Xs and Os.

    Monstro is a former training partner of Shogun Rua, who's also fighting on Saturday's main card, and he said the old-school vibe of their gym in Curitiba, Brazil, has carried over to his wife. 

    "It's amazing the way she absorbed the Chute Boxe (Academy) spirit from me," he told Sherdog.com. "The harder the fight is, the more she shows her big heart and grows in the fight. We had a great camp and you can expect a war."

    Sharing a marquee with Rua will matter, too, Maia said.

    "When I started to train, I remember that we joined everybody in the academy to see Shogun's fights," she said. "I could never imagine to be doing a co-main event on the same card of one of the greatest idols of Chute Boxe ever."

Be a Bully

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    Eric Jamison/Associated Press

    Again, let's be clear. No one's denying Shevchenko is an elite, deserving champion.

    But she's not fought in nine months, during which time a planned title defense was scrapped because of a leg injury that required surgery.

    So there's an opening for a stiff challenge from a determined opponent.

    Reasonable competitive doubt, if you will.

    Maia, at 5'4" and 125 pounds, is not only strong but also skilled. She also has a black belt in jiu-jitsu and has won fights by both knockout (four) and submission (five) as well as decision (nine).

    And while Shevchenko is certainly quick with her hands and powerful with her strikes, Maia does have a roadmap if she can make the fight ugly and get her foe along the fence. From there, it's not inconceivable that a roughed-up Shevchenko might find herself on the mat and in danger of a finish.

    "Who knows how Valentina does coming back from her injury," Cynthia Calvillo, ranked one spot behind Maia at flyweight, told Kumite TV. "Anything could happen. Jen could give her a good run."