At UFC 274, Rose Namajunas and Carla Esparza put on one of the worst title fights in UFC history. In the end, the lack of activity on the octagon proved more costly for Namajunas, who lost a split decision and her belt to Esparza. In the aftermath, many critiqued Namajunas’ lack of urgency, and for flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko, those critiques are well-founded.
“It’s hard to say exactly what was wrong in that fight,” Shevchenko told Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour. “I feel that Rose kind of has everything better, comparing to Carla, and she just didn’t use much. She could wrestle her easily, because I feel Rose has more potential in her wrestling against Carla, [but] she just didn’t use her skills. I don’t know. It sometimes happens with fighters. One day before, they feel so good, and the day of the fight it’s kind of like, ‘Oh my God, I don’t want to fight.’
“You know what can help? If Carla would have been more aggressive and explosive, and Rose received a good punch, she would wake up and she would start to fight. But Carla was kind of like, ‘OK, I’ll do my job,’ and she did it great because she definitely had to use her skills, and Rose didn’t activate. But I feel like if she would be active in that moment — it’s hard to say. We can now think about all possibilities in the world, what could happen, if it will be like that, but it happened how it happened.
“I still feel Rose is a very, very good fighter. She’s very skillful, she has a lot of good things in her game, it was just a night when she was not herself.”
Namajunas was not the only one to catch flak for her performance, though. The MMA community blasted Namajunas’ fiancé and head cornerman Pat Barry for his work during the bout. Barry was heard on the broadcast telling Namajunas she was winning every round and, even after the fact, is convinced that their game plan was working. While Shevchenko did not specifically call out Barry or Namajunas’ other cornermen, she did say that one of the primary reasons she has yet to suffer a setback like Namajunas is that her corner will not allow her to have an off day.
“It can happen with everyone, but every time I rely on my corners, because if sometimes it happens, they would not just say, ‘OK, Valentina, just do that,’” Shevchenko said. “They will yell at me and say what they think about me and what I’m doing. Sometimes it’s necessary, and I feel with all the microphones corners have, they put extra pressure on them to say everything too politely, but sometimes fighters don’t need that, they need an extra push, [mimes a slap] an extra boom! Just to wake up, to have this spike of adrenaline.
“Sometimes when it happens you feel like, ‘OK, nothing happened, I feel comfortable.’ It’s a comfort zone, just hanging around, and I’m not tiring, but then you start to think, if I would continue to fight like that, I will lose my belt, I will lose the fight. Do I agree with that and continue to do nothing just to be comfortable? No. This is what pushes me every time. ‘No, don’t stay here. Go and fight.’”
That system has worked out well for Shevchenko. The flyweight champion is currently the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the MMA Fighting Global Rankings and has successfully defended her title a record six times. She looks to make it seven in a row when she faces Taila Santos at UFC 275 on June 11 in Singapore.