Valentina Shevchenko: 'I will be champion'

LAS VEGAS -- Valentina Shevchenko thought it was a joke.

When she woke up Saturday morning in Las Vegas ahead of her UFC women's bantamweight title bout against Amanda Nunes, all of her thoughts were centered on becoming a champion. It was what she devoted the past three months to -- grueling training, eating healthy -- in order to avenge a loss to Nunes last year (a unanimous decision at UFC 196) and walk out of the Octagon with the belt.

But all that went out the window when her manager reached out saying Nunes was in the hospital and the fight was cancelled.

"I did not want to believe this," Shevchenko told the media just prior to UFC 213. "I'm very upset with what has happened. I'm more upset because all of the fans around the world were expecting this fight, were waiting for this fight. To know just a few hours before the fight, it's something that I wouldn't expect would happen with me."

UFC President Dana White said Nunes was tested by medical staff and was cleared to face Shevchenko. He said after the event Nunes' illness was "90 percent mental." Nunes issued a statement on Sunday explaining why she was forced to pull out.

"I have chronic sinusitis," Nunes wrote on Twitter. "I have fought with it before but this time it didn't work out, during the weight cut I was unable to breathe and felt off balance from the pressure in my sinuses.

"I was not feeling well enough to risk getting punched in the head with such pressure. I was taken to the hospital after weigh-ins and they only checked my blood and dehydration so cleared me based on that. The next day I went back and they did a CT scan and found a buildup and I was prescribed antibiotics and referred to a specialist."

White said he expects the two fighters to face each other in Edmonton at UFC 215 in September. The matchup pins one of the world's elite Muay Thai specialists in Shevchenko against the powerful striking ability of Nunes. The Brazilian became champion by beating Miesha Tate by submission last July and followed up with a dominant performance against Ronda Rousey at UFC 207.

"She has to fight. She has to defend her title. I'm more worried with my goals. I don't care if it is (Amanda) or somebody else. I will be champion." Valentina Shevchenko

Whether Nunes' reason for not fighting on Saturday was legitimate or not means little to Shevchenko, who has won seven of her past eight fights. This was supposed to be her time. Speaking to the press, she seemed understandably upset but also focused on the task at hand. Extending her training camp from three months to five months, with the belt on the line, is worth it to her.

"I'm ready for anything," Shevchenko said. "I will be in my best shape again. It will be a little bit longer of a training camp, but it doesn't matter. I'm feeling mentally strong and physically strong. I will take a little bit of rest and then continue the hard training."

"She has to fight. She has to defend her title. I'm more worried with my goals. I don't care if it is (Amanda) or somebody else. I will be champion."