In UFC, She's No. 2 With a 'Bullet' - OZY | A Modern Media Company

In UFC, She's No. 2 With a 'Bullet'

In UFC, She's No. 2 With a 'Bullet'

By Eugene S. Robinson

Valentina "Bullet" Shevchenko, a deadly combo of fighting skill, talent and killer instinct, is about to upend the whole apple cart.
SourceCooper Neill/Zuffa LLC via Getty

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because being deadly in the cage AND on the screen is one hell of a combo.

By Eugene S. Robinson

  • UFC flyweight champion Valentina “Bullet” Shevchenko made her screen debut in the just-released action flick Bruised.
  • In the pound-for-pound rankings, Shevchenko comes in second place for women and No. 12 overall.

Valentina Shevchenko, the 32-year-old Kyrgyzstani UFC flyweight champion, is a martial artist’s martial artist. Which is totally different from being a fighter’s fighter, because while she can kick your ass just the same, she can also tell you how she did it, if not why, and she’ll even, if you’re nice, tell you how to keep it from happening again.

Not against her, mind you. She didn’t get to 19 wins and only three losses in the UFC by letting the likes of you pull off a W. Or 59 kickboxing wins for that matter. Or even her two professional boxing victories. And the nickname Bullet? Well, that came from her trainer Pavel Fedotov. You see, Shevchenko is fast. Ungodly fast. Which, if it’s got to happen, is probably how you’d prefer to be knocked out.

It would be silly for me to say I wanted to do this…

Valentina Shevchenko

So, as she calls from Las Vegas, while training for last Saturday’s co-main event fight at UFC 255, where she defeated Jennifer Maia before a pandemic-emptied arena, it’s surprising to hear her say: “It would be silly for me to say I wanted to do this…”

She’s not talking about her starring role in Halle Berry’s newest action flick, Bruised, wherein she plays, no surprises here, a heavy. Or hanging out with President Donald Trump for a grip-and-grin favor to the Trump-friendly UFC CEO Dana White. Or headlining events like she did this summer in Uruguay (complete with the cash payout that goes along with being marquee). No, she’s talking about the fight thing in total.

Raised by a mother who is president of a Kyrgyzstan muay thai federation, dedicated to the advancement of the art of eight limbs, and a soccer-loving father who knew enough to get out of the way, Shevchenko has been doing this since she was 5 years old.

“I don’t think any 5-year-old has any idea what they want to do,” she says. So she and her older sister, Antonina — who is also a world-ranked UFC fighter — joined her competing mother, first in taekwondo, then muay thai. But her competitive kickboxing career really started when she was 12 and knocked out her opponent. Who was not 12, but 22. One hell of a start.

“I think it helps to contextualize this too,” says Nathan Wilcox, an MMA (mixed martial arts) media member. “Kyrgyzstan was the ninth-poorest country in the former Soviet Union and right now is the second-poorest country in Central Asia. And getting out probably starts with being able to do something well enough to get out.”

Shevchenko was in Kyrgyzstan long enough to go to university, where she studied art, minus the martial, but was tramping around the world to compete alongside her mother, sister and coach. “No. 1 for me was martial arts,” Shevchenko says, with not a single trace of levity in her voice.

This is after all the woman who got caught up in a shootout in a restaurant in Peru, where she lived for eight years (she’s fluent in Spanish as well). One of the robbers was killed, as her coach — now her brother-in-law, married to her sister — returned fire and he himself was shot. Did it stop her from fighting in her third UFC fight 60 days later in 2016? No it did not. And her coach was there to celebrate her win over the phenomenal Holly Holm. It’s safe to say at this point Shevchenko had arrived. Complete with a tattoo of a gun and bullets on her abdomen. (Though these predated the shooting: She’s a gun aficionado.)

UFC 247: Shevchenko v Chookagian

Shevchenko kicking her way to keeping her championship belt against Katlyn Chookagian. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

“Valentina Shevchenko has carved out a place where few of her peers can touch her,” says MMA journalist Zane Simon. “In so much as Ronda Rousey set a standard for elite grappling prowess in women’s MMA, Shevchenko has molded herself into a near-untouchable striker. Her combination of well-schooled, consistent craft is married perfectly to a constant eye for defense and opportunity.”

And it’s precisely this eye for opportunity that’s had her settle in Las Vegas, where she can make the most of not only martial arts being No. 1, but the myriad other things that might come her way as a result of what she can do with her fists.

“I love the arts and I think one thing completes the other thing,” Shevchenko says about both the martial and the arts (she still plays the ukulele). “Dancers, singers, to speak with them and see how they think about life. And working with Halle Berry was a great experience.” Something she’d be glad to see herself do more of … but, well, later.

“In the women’s flyweight division,” Simon puts a period on it. “Bullet’s a problem that no one has come close to solving.”

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