Valentina Shevchenko’s sister, Antonina, faces a tactical battle at UFC 255 against Ariane Lipski, the former KSW defending champion who was known for her vicious submission earlier this year, with admirers including former champ Cris Cyborg.
Much of the conversation surrounding Antonina Shevchenko’s fight on Saturday was centered on her family affair and fought on the same bill as revered UFC champion Sister Valentina at the first UFC event that saw two sisters billed.
Shevchenko’s opponent, Lipski, is one of the few fighters who can rival her fan base. This was backed by a headline win when she defeated Luana Carolina in a submission of the year with an excruciating-looking knee bar.
This time around, Lipski and Shevchenko both have a point to prove in trying to establish their credentials as legitimate competitors, while answering critics who offer faded reviews of their recent records.
Shevchenko’s hundreds of thousands of fans know her for the excitement she shares with her younger siblings, including weapons and airplanes, as well as for her combat capabilities.
However, to get a compelling UFC performance, she could envision staying within range and scooping a likely point gain from her stronger hitting skills than her most obvious way victory in the octagon.
Five months ago, when Shevchenko’s strike was expected to cause trouble for Katlyn Chookagian, the number two flyweight took advantage of its wrestling mistakes on its way to a unanimous win.
Chookagian was barely known for her floor skills prior to her victory, which revealed the shortcomings her victim focused on in training.
“I’ve worked on everything,” said Shevchenko.
“In MMA you can’t just say, ‘I’m a muay thai world champion – I don’t need good wrestling or grappling.
“Even if you’re good at everything, you could lose. We tried to get better at everything – my punch had to be sharper too.”
Lipski is aiming for the summit
Nine Years Shevchenko’s junior “The Queen of Violence” knows a win would make a significant statement of intent as she continues to recover from a stuttering start after joining the UFC last year.
“This fight is a very good challenge in my career,” said the understated Brazilian. “Antonina is a good name for fighting. She’s the champion’s sister with a similar game.”
Their early encounters have raised big questions about Lipski’s potential to be at the top of the division. The win that preceded her win over little-known Carolina was a much-needed stroll against an outside of the top 100 opponent Isabela de Pádua.
The three-time KSW champion looked superior for promotion in her first two fights, taking Joanne Calderwood and Molly McCann comfortable points wins, but she believes these were important learning fights.
“I assume that I will definitely win this fight, by knocking out or submitting,” she boldly predicted that she is with Shevchenko. “Then I’ll go upstairs.”
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After Shevchenko only resumed her professional MMA career in 2017 after three wins more than a decade ago, she is a relatively fresh face at flyweight, albeit one that was immediately hyped thanks to her family ties.
Even so, at the age of 35 and two lost fights, the decorated muay thai master cannot afford to lose to Lipski if she wants at least to find a way out of Valentina’s considerable shadow.
“She’s tough, aggressive, strong,” Shevchenko said of Lipski. “I just have to be the same or more aggressive than them.”
Shevchenko will try to use her experiences against Roxanne Modafferi, Chookagian and Lucie Pudilová – all tougher tests than Lipski’s youngest opponents – to prevent Lipski from successfully taking them down.
Beware of the Lipski floor game
Lipski’s blueprint for the win was underscored by Modafferi, whose grappling skills led to Shevchenko’s first professional defeat when she lost to a split decision in St. Petersburg in April 2019.
That weakness, coupled with Lipski’s flashy end to her run-in with Carolina, makes for a potentially entertaining style contrast.
“It was a completely different submission because it was a counterattack – I don’t know if it was the best submission of the year,” laughed Lipski. “But for me it was.”
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Lipski’s husband and coach, Renato da Silva Jr., has described her as a “complete athlete” competing in the competition.
“He makes me a very good fighter,” she said. “Next year will be my year.
“The training camp for this fight was so tough, but I feel so good and strong for this fight. Don’t blink because I can end the fight as soon as you think.”
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