Valentina Shevchenko is easily one of the most dominant champions in the UFC, and she is well on her way to becoming one of the most dominant champions of all time. At 32 years old and currently at her peak, Shevchenko likely has several years of ascendant performances left in her, and if she remains active, it is very possible that she could break the record for most successful title defenses in the women’s divisions. Right now, Valentina Shevchenko is on track to becoming the Demetrious Johnson of the women’s flyweight division and is currently enjoying a heightened level of appreciation than Mighty Mouse did. But how long can that last?
If there is one narrative that followed Demetrious Johnson, it is that he did not face strong enough competition, and as a result, the brilliance he displayed in the flyweight division was somewhat minimized. Of course, as I have addressed in a past series dissecting Johnson’s legacy, these claims do not hold up to heavy scrutiny and is actually one of those things that get repeated over time enough that people just call it the truth.
Demetrious Johnson fought much tougher competition than he was given credit for, names like Joseph Benavidez, Henry Cejudo, Kyoji Horiguchi, a prime John Dodson, and others. In fact, the “lack of stiff competition” criticism seems to be much more applicable to Valentina Shevchenko’s flyweight run thus far, yet she has somehow slipped these jabs against her legacy and has only been swarmed by the praise she deserves.
Valentina Shevchenko has been nothing but money since dropping down to flyweight, cashing in one flawless victory after another. And each win is a safe deposit into her legacy, with history recording how the only adversity she has faced was in another division which seems like a lifetime ago. The same was true for Demetrious Johnson, who was a top contender at bantamweight but after failing to capture the big one, he dropped down to 125, where he made history.
Shevchenko and Johnson both lost to fighters who are considered the consensus greatest of all time at 135, Amanda Nunes and Dominick Cruz, but then took their performances to another level at flyweight. But while Demetrious Johnson was seemingly blamed for his dominance over opposition that he made look average, Shevchenko’s greatness is celebrated. Her diverse skill set is hailed while Johnson’s was attributed to the limitations of his opponents more so than his sublime talent. But with Shevchenko, every brutal KO is applauded, and every technical virtuoso performance is recognized as such without any caveats, as they should be.
So why is it that Shevchenko’s dominance is so universally celebrated while Johnson’s was subject to a polarized reception? The answer is the level of competition…. not whom they faced, but whom their names are pitted against in the never-ending debate battles.
As of right now, no one is calling Valentina Shevchenko the greatest women’s mixed martial artist of all time. This frees her up to be celebrated without the more intense legacy audit that Johnson was subjected to after many began calling him the greatest mixed martial artist of all time. Demetrious Johnson’s career was held up against giants like Jon Jones, Georges St-Pierre, and Anderson Silva, but right now, Valentina Shevchenko’s career is not being compared to Amanda Nunes’s, who seems to stand alone right now on the WMMA GOAT list. In fact, more people might consider Cyborg to be the greatest of all time than Shevchenko. So without these comparisons, Shevchenko does not have the burden of the same careful inspections that Johnson experienced, which helps her to be celebrated today but may prevent her name from lingering into the long tomorrow.
At the moment, the greatest victory Shevchenko holds in the flyweight division is against Joanna Jędrzejczyk. Outside of that, she has been a monster favorite night in and night out, including ahead of her upcoming title fight at UFC 255 against Jennifer Maia, where Shevchenko currently sits as a practically unbettable -1660 favorite. If this trend continues, sure, Shevchenko will clean out her division with relative ease, but if she does go on to break records, you can expect the same people that said Demetrious Johnson could not be the GOAT because of an imaginary lack of competition will say the same for Shevchenko who has faced significantly lower competition than Johnson thus far according to the odds, win-loss records, and any measurable metric.
Valentina Shevchenko is going to be expected to win any fight she’s in at flyweight for the foreseeable future. The only threat on the radar for her is Jessica Andrade, which Shevchenko is likely to be a comfortable favorite over as well, probably at a minimum of -300. So the same thing that was said about Demetrious Johnson will come back to Shevchenko sooner or later, only it will ring much truer: For Valentina Shevchenko to have a chance at being the GOAT, she will need to eventually move back up to 135, and ideally, conquer the only demon that has haunted her UFC career: Amanda Nunes.
Without doing so, Shevchenko, like Demetrious Johnson, will be immortalized by the purists; but unlike Johnson, neither the purists nor the casual will be able to formulate a strong argument for her as the greatest women’s mixed martial artist of all time.