Fight fans know Valentina Shevchenko as the UFC women's flyweight champ. Soon film fanatics will know her as Lucia "Lady Killer" Chavez, the primary antagonist to Jackie Justice, played by Halle Berry, in the new film Bruised.
Bruised follows the gritty formula found in other sports movies such as The Wrestler. Justice is a down-on-her-luck fighter who now cleans houses after a mishap in the ring, a spray bottle full of whiskey at the ready for those mid-shift pick-me-ups. As Justice cleans up her act and fights her way back to the light, Shevchenko plays the division champion and Justice's ultimate challenge.
It's not an unfamiliar role for Shevchenko. The Russian has defended her flyweight crown six consecutive times. Her last defeat came in 2017 to Amanda Nunes (21-4), the two-division champion widely regarded as the best women's fighter ever.
Also serving as Berry's directorial debut, Bruised streams on Netflix beginning Wednesday. In advance of the release, Shevchenko talked to Bleacher Report about movie fighting, working with Berry, and her latest thinking on a third bout with Nunes.
The exchange has been edited for length and clarity.
Not a lot of people get to see themselves on the silver screen. What was that like?
Shevchenko: When I watched it, I was not just watching for myself, right? I was watching the whole picture, how everything came together, all the details, everything. I was just so excited.
The movie's culminating scene is you, as reigning champion, taking on Berry’s character, Jackie Justice. It's a pretty extended scene, with five rounds of action. How much of your MMA training did you bring into the action?
Shevchenko: I thought the fight scenes looked so real. As I was watching, I had the feeling I was watching it for real. In the theater, my body language was acting and reacting to what was on the screen. (laughs) You could probably see me throwing punches from my seat.
Were you a fan of Halle Berry before you got involved with Bruised?
Shevchenko: Oh yes, definitely. I would say my favorite movie with Halle Berry was Catwoman, because of the grit that she showed in it. I love how she moved and she was so gorgeous in that movie. Also definitely Die Another Day, because I am a fan of James Bond. And certainly her Oscar-winner movie, Monster's Ball.
What was it like to film the fight scene, and how was it different from an MMA fight?
Shevchenko: In the movie fight you're not hitting hard, but you want to show that you're hitting hard.
Another difference is that in the movie [filming] you have to do it over and over. So, to me, it felt like the longest five rounds ever (laughs). It wasn't 25 minutes combined, it was five rounds that lasted for five days.
Is there a message you hope this movie sends to viewers?
Shevchenko: I would say no matter what position you are going to be in with life, there's always going to be chances, like second chance, third chance. There will always be something that will help you. The message is that you have to be ready to take it. You have to be ready to see it and to use it for good.
You actually have a film degree. Does that mean you've always had an interest in show business?
Shevchenko: Yes, I got a degree in film directing from the National Academy of Arts Kyrgyzstan, where I was born and grew up. I was at the academy for five years, and it was always kind of in my mind. To me, movies are art, and martial arts is art. So, to me, it's all the same.
Are you still a movie buff today?
Shevchenko: Oh definitely. I'm always interested in who is directing the movie, who is writing the script. It's a magical world, and they're always creating something so interesting.
Lately I've had a few movies that I've been watching all the time. One of them is The Fifth Element. Another one is Crocodile Dundee.
I have to ask you about Nunes. You've lost two close fights to her, and now plenty of people are clamoring for a third bout. Have you had time to think about her lately?
Shevchenko: I have a feeling it's gonna happen at some point. But I really believe that she doesn't want to fight me. It was a gift of the judges that she won that second fight, and it's not going to happen like that when we fight again. So, I really believe she's trying to avoid this.