27 years in, Valentina Shevchenko maintains champion mindset

UFC women’s flyweight champion Valentina “Bullet” Shevchenko successfully defended her belt for the fourth time decisioning Jennifer Maia in the co-main event of UFC 255 on Saturday night. At the post-fight press conference, Shevchenko said her motivation remains high, despite starting martial arts at the age of 5 in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, some 27 years ago.

Shevchenko has been competing in MMA since 2003, earning a 20-3 record, and remains undefeated at flyweight.

“This is what I’m doing.” said Shevchenko. “It’s what I want because finally I’m in flyweight, my natural weight class, where I feel the most power, the technique, the speed, everything. Definitely I want to compete here for a long time to defend my belt against anyone who’s gonna be in front of me. I heard some people there saying, ‘Dominant champ,’ something like that, ‘you are losing motivation, there is no motivation because you feel it’s easy passing everyone.’ But it’s not like that. Because the way that I did to become UFC champion, it’s not one people can imagine that they’re gonna do. For example, people who are born in the United States, they can have seven or eight fights and already fight for the UFC. Me, I was born in Kyrgyzstan, martial arts I start to do at five years old.

“Five years ago, I joined the UFC finally, right? It took 22 years from my start, moving around the world, traveling, fighting, winning world championships, moving closer, closer, closer, 22 years with a record of 17 world championships just to join the UFC. After 27 years, I became world champion of the UFC. So there is no way I am going to lose my motivation to still be the dominant champion and continue my success in martial arts because I know how hard it was.”

A fuss was made that Shevchenko lost a single round to Maia, something that had not happened since taking the title from Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 231 in 2018. However, Shevchenko disagreed that the other contenders may feel she has a mental edge.

“I don’t think that it happens here,” said Shevchenko. “UFC, it’s a top league. There are no amateurs who have this mentality. Only the best in the whole world fight in here and the best have different mental settings in their head. They don’t have this fear because a fight is a fight. Of course, you’re going to face some very strong opponents, but they’re gonna go there to lose? I don’t think so because here only the best ones fight in the UFC.”

One thing that is not on her mind is retirement.

“I don’t have a date,” she said. “I think it’s very early, 35, 36. Because I believe that a person who still have it, like desire, technique, power, strength, you have to use it until the end. Because if you decide, ‘Okay, I’m going to stop it now.’ And probably after a few years you are thinking, ‘Why wouldn’t I try to do it again and come back from my retirement?’ But there is another factor that you are not the same person, you are older. You lost your skills because you didn’t do enough training and you didn’t maintain your spirit of the fighter and the time is already gone.

“Then you look back and, ‘Oh, it’s so frustrating. Why I took that decision?’ That’s why I’m a person who believes you have to use your potential right now, right today, before you’re gonna feel, ‘Okay, this is time to do something else.’”

“I tell you what, my skills never get lower. It’s not gonna be lower, lower, and lower. It’s gonna be higher, higher, and higher. … Until 50s.”

h/t Alexander K. Lee for MMA Fighting

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