Valentina Shevchenko's number one goal is simple: "to dominate, in general."
And while Shevchenko needs little more motivation than keeping her belt, she comes to Singapore carrying a rejuvenated kind of energy that comes from returning home after a long time away. Early in 2022, Shevchenko visited Kyrgyzstan, spending nearly a month there. The trip carried major significance for Shevchenko as it was her first time back in the country in more than 10 years (other than a week-long stint she said "doesn't count").
"It's everything," Shevchenko said. "The spirit, the spirit of my people, the energy of the land, just everything. Even walking through the street and speaking with regular people, it's such good energy that really charges you. Spending a lot of time riding horses, seeing the national game Kok-boru, it's very brave. It's gorgeous, and it's amazing. It's inspirational, and when you see your countrymen doing that brave game, you have to do the same. You have to maintain our tradition of being strong people."
Since capturing the flyweight belt in December 2018, Shevchenko not only habitually achieves that goal, but does so to a degree few UFC champions ever have. Her seven title fight victories rank ninth all-time in the promotion's history, and should she add another ruby to her belt at "UFC 275: Teixeira vs Prochazka," she'd tie Randy Couture and Jose Aldo for seventh. Only Amanda Nunes has won more than Shevchenko in the women's divisions with nine.
It's the way "Bullet" goes about her business – a balance of no-nonsense focus on each training session, fight camp and opponent with a full appreciation of the nomadic lifestyle martial arts competition brings her – that makes it all the more impressive. Whether she and her sister, Antonina, are flying planes in the desert, sailing a boat off the coast of Washington or learning new languages (Valentina speaks three fluently and is working on Thai), Shevchenko (22-3 MMA, 11-2 UFC) seems to dominate living, let alone fighting. That said, she understands fighting is the vehicle upon which everything depends, and her title defense against Taila Santos (19-1 MMA, 4-1 UFC) is no exception.
"When I enter the octagon, my goal is not just to win, it's to show martial arts domination and the beauty of martial arts," Shevchenko said. "I'm not thinking about legacy. All these thoughts, it's after the fight. When I am there, I am in full (attention). I am not thinking about what I want to show. I just do that. I just do what I was prepared for, and I prepared for that all my life. I was training during all my life."
Shevchenko takes pride in her 29 years of martial arts training, and of late, she has taken a particular interest in beating her opponents where they are best. Against Katlyn Chookagian and Jessica Eye, Shevchenko outstruck her way to finishes. Against Lauren Murphy, Shevchenko eventually turned up the pressure, outmuscling her way to another stoppage.
That pursuit was never more apparent than against Jessica Andrade, who some surmised would have a wrestling and strength advantage over the champion after Jennifer Maia found one round of success grappling with Shevchenko. "Bullet" promptly steamrolled Andrade doing exactly that.
Statement: made. Domination: achieved.
"I feel like my fight, I have a strong game in everything," she said. "That's why, for me, it's not challenging to fight in wrestling, in standup, on the ground. I'm not afraid to go there, to drive them there. This is the most important – you feel confident, you feel comfortable to fight in any area.
"In their minds, they think they are strong and they have advantages in this field, but once they feel, 'No,' it's not where they have their power, here no power, there no power," she continued. "(They think), 'Where is my power?' This is the breaking point of them. Definitely, it plays a big part in the fight."
For as much as Shevchenko seeks undermining her opponent's confidence where they hold it most dearly, she knows it doesn't come easily, no matter how simple she makes it look in the octagon.
In Santos, Shevchenko acknowledges the Brazilian's physical strength, striking and grappling technique and overall success in the octagon, most recently a dominant first-round finish of Joanne Wood in November 2021.
"We are in the fight business, the best organization in the world, and to look for something easy, an opponent not that strong, you won't find any weak opponent here," Shevchenko said. "That's why you have to think that your next opponent is the strongest one. Only this mindset will help you to prepare properly for the fight."
Shevchenko's ability to block out anything that doesn't contribute to getting her hand raised is perhaps her greatest trait as a fighter, although the competition is stiff. It's what helps her find the "tiny point" where she can create a special moment and a magical performance, but even as she feels momentum shifting and her opponent breaking, she knows she can't ever let her foot off the gas pedal. It's the pressure and the responsibility of the champion, and right now, nobody is shouldering that weight better than Shevchenko. Heading into UFC 275, she has continued that lifelong habit of hard work to negate any shred of hope that anything different will happen.
"You cannot relax until the very, very last second," Shevchenko said. "Before your hand is going to be raised up, you have to work. You have to work toward destruction."
This story first published at UFC.com.