Shevchenko defends flyweight belt, holds off Maia at UFC 255

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Valentina Shevchenko defended her UFC women’s flyweight title with a surprisingly difficult unanimous decision over Jennifer Maia at UFC 255 on Saturday night.

Shevchenko (20-3) earned her sixth consecutive victory as a UFC flyweight and her fourth title defense, but the dominant champ had to work much harder than almost everyone expected. Shevchenko won 49-46 on all three cards.

Maia (18-7-1), one of the biggest underdogs in UFC title fight history, stretched Shevchenko to the limit and even likely won the second round against a champion who had barely been tested during her nearly three-year run at 125 pounds.

Men’s flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo faced Alex Perez in the main event of the pay-per-view show from the UFC Apex gym on the promotion’s corporate campus in its hometown.

For most of the show’s penultimate bout, Shevchenko eschewed her dominant kickboxing and counterpunching in favor of takedowns and ground fighting with Maia, the massive underdog who caused enough trouble in the early rounds to get Shevchenko’s attention.

After Shevchenko dominated the first round on the ground, Maia largely controlled the second round, also on the ground — no small feat against Shevchenko, who had lost only one round on the judges’ scorecards in her entire UFC career as a flyweight.

Shevchenko took down Maia twice in the third, and the champion picked apart Maia on their feet and on the ground in the fourth. Shevchenko bloodied Maia’s face in the fifth round with strikes, but Maia survived to the final horn.

The 32-year-old Shevchenko has dominated the 125-pound division since December 2018, one year after the UFC created the belt. Her only two losses in the past decade were close decisions against two-division UFC champion Amanda Nunes, and Shevchenko dominated each of her first three flyweight title defenses.

Maia got her first title shot after an upset victory over top contender Joanne Calderwood in August, jumping the line for her shot — and then proving she deserved it.

Scotland’s Paul Craig opened the pay-per-view portion of the show with a second-round stoppage of former light heavyweight champion Maurício “Shogun” Rua.

Earlier, Mexico’s Brandon Moreno likely put himself in line for the next shot at the men’s flyweight belt with a first-round stoppage of fellow top contender Brandon Royval.

Moreno (18-5-1) was booked to fight Perez at UFC 255 before Garbrandt pulled out and Perez got the title shot. Moreno was disappointed, but he still finished Royval, whose shoulder was dislocated, on the ground with one second left in the round.

Shevchenko’s older sister, Antonina, stopped Ariane Lipski with punches in the second round of their undercard bout. The Shevchenkos are the first sisters to compete on the same card in UFC history.

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