Shevchenko was last in action at UFC 261 in April. Against former UFC Women’s Strawweight Champion Jéssica Andrade, “Bullet” dominated the fight on the way to a second-round TKO victory. The win represented the 33-year-old’s seventh consecutive success in the cage and the fifth defense of her flyweight gold.
At UFC 266 in September, Shevchenko’s belt will be on the line again. In her second appearance of 2021, the Bishkek-born star will share the cage with veteran Lauren Murphy. “Lucky” has built a five-fight winning streak that includes a recent victory over Joanne Calderwood on the way to her first UFC title shot.
Despite her recent form, not many are tipping Murphy to have much of a chance at dethroning the flyweight queen. And whilst many see Shevchenko as unbeatable at 125 pounds, Dan Hardy believes there’s a woman capable of making the move up from 115 pounds to topple the champion.
In an interview with SCMP MMA, “The Outlaw” suggested that former strawweight champ Zhang Weili is one of the most intriguing names still out there for Shevchenko to face in the UFC.
“[Zhang]’s one of the most interesting opponents, in my opinion, for Shevchenko. Purely because I think Zhang Weili carries the power to make a difference.” (h/t South China Morning Post)
Addressing Andrade’s failed attempt to reach the mountaintop of a second division, Hardy explained why Zhang could be more successful if she chooses to follow in the Brazilian’s footsteps.
“With my excitement that I give towards Jéssica Andrade, the recklessness in her style is always going to cost her against Shevchenko. But with Zhang Weili you’ve got the power and the speed as well as the technique and the accuracy. So I think she’s got lots of options, I really do.”
After a remarkable 21-fight winning streak, Zhang met her match at the same pay-per-view where Shevchenko recorded another dominant defense. Having blitzed Andrade in her home country to become champ, “Magnum” successfully kept hold of her belt in an incredible five-round war against Joanna Jędrzejczyk last March. But against Rose Namajunas, the Chinese star was knocked out in the very first round, and left the VyStar Veterans Memorial arena without the title.
Despite training hard for a desired rematch with “Thug Rose,” Hardy believes the 32-year-old could fare well if she chose to challenge a new set of fighters in the promotion. According to the 39-year-old, Zhang would be an incredibly dangerous opponent for any flyweight.
“She’s powerful for the weight class, for strawweight” Hardy said of Zhang. “If you look at the way she trains, she does a lot of real strong core training, stability training with kettlebells holding positions. If she started to switch to more powerlifting, more plyometrics stuff, that power would transfer very, very easily.
“I also think she’s got it physiologically. You can see it in her shoulders and legs that she naturally gains muscle very easily. She’d probably be a great powerlifter as well. I certainly think at flyweight she would be a real force to be reckoned with.”
Nevertheless, Hardy admitted that he still wants to see Zhang run it back with Namajunas, but he maintained “Magnum” has a host of options if she chooses to end her time at 115 pounds.
“I would like to see the rematch against Rose. It wasn’t a long fight. We didn’t really see them get to take any chunks out of one another. But it was decisive at the same time. It’s just a deep division, isn’t it? But I do think she’s got options up at flyweight as well.”
Do you agree with Dan Hardy? Could Zhang Weili pose a threat to Valentina Shevchenko’s throne?