The Size Up: UFC 213 – Nunes vs. Shevchenko

Women’s Bantamweight Title – Amanda Nunes vs. Valentina Shevchenko
Nunes Notable Fights: Ronda Rousey (W), Valentina Shevchenko (W), Miesha Tate (W), Cat Zingano (L)

Shevchenko Notable Fights: Holly Holm (W), Amanda Nunes (L), Sarah Kaufman (W), Julianna Pena (W)

Nunes Stat: This is her second year in a row headlining international fight week

Shevchenko Stat: She has beaten the only UFC women’s bantamweight champion that Nunes hasn’t.

The Match Up

*UPDATE* Nunes has fallen ill and has been pulled from the card.

Since Ronda Rousey’s streak of dominance ended in the UFC women’s bantamweight division, there has been a wave of new champions and exciting match-ups. That again is the case on Saturday night as the UFC’s international fight week is headlined by a rematch between champion Amanda Nunes and challenger Valentina Shevchenko.

Their first meeting was a close, tense affair with ebbs and flows throughout. Early on, Nunes was having the better of it with some good striking and brilliant grappling while Shevchenko was extremely defensive and careful. Late in the fight Nunes then began to tire and Shevchenko started to land at will. After three rounds, Shevchenko was probably closer to finishing but the 10-point must system gave Nunes the victory.

On Saturday, the situation hasn’t really changed much in terms of the match-up. Nunes will still be aggressive early; looking to land power strikes and takedowns when it gets close. While Shevchenko will wait for openings to strike at the same time as being happy with playing the long game.

But what has changed is the length of the fight. And that could make a gargantuan difference.

The Pick

The single most important factor entering the UFC 213 main event on Saturday night as opposed to their first meeting is the five round distance instead of three. By her very nature, despite saying otherwise after recent wins, Amanda Nunes is a fighter suited to shorter bouts.

What makes Nunes, in my opinion anyway, the most talented fighter in the division today is not just her power, skill and tremendous athleticism; but her willingness to use it. She is an aggressive monster in the opening rounds who hits harder than anyone in the division and has a very effective top game, as she showed in their first meeting, when the fight hits the canvas.

That high-octane, high-output games comes at a cost, though. If she gets the finish, it’s all well and good. But if she doesn’t, it’s big trouble for the petrol tank.

Valentina Shevchenko knows that, and will fight her normal game which is exactly what she needs to do here. Weather the Nunes storm, let her get tired and take advantage late on. Like in the first fight, Shevchenko will stay relatively active with leg kicks and counters early while conserving her energy, and her chin, by keeping her output low and defensive high. While at the same time doing everything to keep the fight standing because of Nunes’ huge advantage in that area.

If the fight goes her way and enters the last three rounds, look for her to use knees to capitalise on Nunes’ takedown attempts which get more sloppy as the rounds go on. And similarly, the output of her hands will increase too based on Nunes’ quality decreasing.

Unless something changes hugely from the first fight in terms of strategy, which it well could, this will either be Nunes early with power strikes and grappling dominance, Shevchenko late with better cardio and cleaner technique or a close decision. It might be odd to say this considering Nunes won the first fight and I think she’s more talented than everyone in the division, but Shevchenko is a bad match-up for her. She has the ability to keep away from her early onslaught, she has the petrol tank to outlast her and she has the skills to take advantage of it once that happens.

In combat sports they say styles make fights and, over five rounds, I think Shevchenko‘s style will see her become the new UFC women’s bantamweight champion.

Interim Middleweight Title – Yoel Romero vs. Robert Whittaker

Romero Notable Fights: Chris Weidman (W), Jacare Souza (W), Rafael Feijao (L)

Whittaker Notable Fights: Jarare Souza (W), Stephen Thompson (L), Uriah Hall (W)

Romero Stat: 5 of his last 7 fights have ended in 3rd round finish wins.

Whittaker Stat: He is unbeaten in 6 middleweight fights.

The Match Up

With Michael Bisping currently injured and possibly awaiting a fight with Georges St-Pierre, it’s left to Cuban Yoel Romero and Aussie Robert Whittaker to fulfill the UFC middleweight title gap as they fight for an interim strap this weekend.

And, you know what? I’m glad we were left with this situation because it’s an absolutely fantastic fight between two soaring beasts who have excelled through the division, but done so in very different ways.

Romero has smashed his way to the top using his devastating power, freakish athleticism and underrated fight IQ, while Whittaker has moved up a weight to become a modern day technical wizard who can take you apart piece by piece.

Both men have risen to every challenge put in front of them and enter Saturday neck and neck in the betting stakes. And for good reason.

The Pick

Sometimes, you just don’t know. This is one of those times.

For me, I see Whittaker winning most battles in this fight. I think his footwork will bamboozle Romero and make it very hard for him to score with meaningful attacks often. I think his forward pressure, coupled with fast, high-output striking will be tough for Romero to handle. While, despite Romero’s record of winning fights late, I think Whittaker has the better cardio and will be favoured the longer the fight goes. All great for the Aussie.

But, he’s fighting Yoel Romero.

Even if all of the above is true and comes off exactly as Whittaker plans, he has a much larger than common percentage chance of losing because of his opponent’s ability. In any other fight Whittaker would be the clear runaway winner, but not this one. Romero, who we sometimes forget has Olympic medal winning level wrestling too, can strike from anywhere, at any second. If he doesn’t dominate you, he can beat you when you are dominating him. He can spark you with a hook, drop you with a bodylock and rattle five generations of family members with one flying knee.

That’s why I find this so hard to pick. I do think that Whittaker will dominate here, but that doesn’t mean to say Romero can’t or won’t win. It’s really a matter of guess work.

Having said that, I can’t sit on the fence here so I’m going for Whittaker. My reasoning for that simply is his killer instinct. I think if he gets the upper hand on Yoel, he won’t let off the accelerator and give the Cuban the chance to get back into it. Whittaker has proven a lot in terms of game planning over the last few fights and I think that’s enough to just take it for him here.

Heavyweight – Fabricio Werdum vs. Alistair Overeem

Werdum Notable Fights: Cain Velasquez (W), Fedor Emelianenko (W), Alistair Overeem (1W, 1L)

Overeem Notable Fights: Junior Dos Santos (W), Brock Lesnar (W), Fabricio Werdum (1W, 1L)

Werdum Stat: He has previously fought Overeem in Pride and Strikeforce.

Overeem Stat: 50 of his career fights have finished inside the distance.

The Pick: Overeem‘s more refined game will see him win a close one, for me.

Lightweight – Anthony Pettis vs. Jim Miller

Pettis Notable Fights: Benson Henderson (2W), Max Holloway (L), Donald Cerrone (W)

Miller Notable Fights: Joe Lauzon (2W), Nate Diaz (L), Thiago Alves (W)

Pettis Stat: His last three wins all came via submission

Miller Stat: He has only been knocked out once in 38 career fights.

The Pick: I think Pettis might just pull out another submission win

Additional Picks
Heavyweight Daniel Omielańczuk vs. Curtis Blaydes – Blaydes

Heavyweight Travis Browne vs. Oleksiy Oliynyk – Browne
Welterweight Chad Laprise vs. Brian Camozzi – Laprise
Middleweight Thiago Santos vs. Gerald Meerschaert – Santos
Welterweight Jordan Mein vs. Belal Muhammad – Belal

Bantamweight Rob Font vs. Douglas Silva de Andrade – Font
Featherweight Cody Stamann vs. Terrion Ware – Stamann
Light Heavyweight Trevin Giles vs. James Bochnovic – Giles

Betting Tip

Shevchenko via KO at 5/1

Start Times

Early Prelims on Fight Pass at 11.30pm

Prelims on BT Sport 2 and Fight Pass at 1am

Main Card on BT Sport 2 at 3am

Podcaster, lead MMA writer and analyst for SevereMMA. Host of the SevereMMA podcast, out every Sunday. Economics and Mathematics graduate from UCC. Also write for Sherdog. Previously of hov-mma and fightbooth. As heard on 2FM, Red FM, Today FM and more. Follow me on twitter for updates @SeanSheehanBA and on Facebook Facebook.com/seansheehanmma