EDMONTON — Amanda Nunes is still the UFC’s female bantamweight champion. By the very skin of her teeth.
Nunes (15-4) defended her 135-pound title for the second time on Saturday, narrowly defeating Valentina Shevchenko (14-3) via split decision. The bout headlined UFC 215 inside Rogers Place.
The five-round title fight, which was a rematch of a Nunes decision win in March 2016, was razor close. Two judges scored it 48-47 for Nunes, while a third saw it 48-47 for Shevchenko. ESPN scored it for Shevchenko, 48-47.
Nunes, who was forced to cancel the title defense in July when she fell ill on fight day, pointed to a pair of late takedowns as a difference-maker.
“I made sure I was sharp everywhere,” Nunes said. “I learned that at the end of the round is when she is getting tired, not me. I decided with my coach that at the end of the round, take her down. That’s what happened tonight.”
Shevchenko, who was born in Kyrgyzstan and has strong ties to Peru, immediately expressed her dissatisfaction with the scores.
“For two takedowns? All five rounds? She didn’t hit me,” Shevchenko said. “Look at her face. I really don’t understand. Even when I was on the ground, I hit very hard from the ground position. I really don’t understand why [I lost].”
The rematch was very different from the first fight, which saw Nunes dominate Shevchenko on the ground for two rounds before gassing in the third.
Nunes, who is from Brazil but fights out of Coconut Creek, Florida, stood with Shevchenko much more in the rematch. She threw a steady dose of push kicks to Shevchenko’s lead thigh, which Shevchenko later said had little effect.
Slowly, Shevchenko appeared to get Nunes’s timing down, although she never really opened up in a big way. She turned to Superman punches from a distance, and caught Nunes a couple times with slick counterpunches after slipping Nunes’s right hand. Nunes continued to land push kicks, however, and placed the right hand several times during brief exchanges.
Overall, however, it was a chess match of a fight. The Edmonton crowd, which lost its original main event between Demetrious Johnson and Ray Borg after Borg withdrew, booed throughout and began chanting “Let’s go Oilers,” in the final round.
According to Fightmetric, Shevchenko outlanded Nunes in total strikes 104-to-85. Nunes was credited with three takedowns in five attempts.