UFC 215 Cheat Sheet: Amanda Nunes vs. Valentina Shevchenko

Valantina Shevchenko will look to avenge an early loss to Amanda Nunes and take the UFC women's bantamweight belt. ESPN Illustration

After their UFC 213 main event was called off in July due to Amanda Nunes' illness, the female bantamweight champion is set to meet Valentina Shevchenko in a long-awaited rematch in the main event of UFC 215, after the Demetrious Johnson vs. Ray Borg flyweight title fight was called off Thursday night -- bumping Nunes-Shevchenko II to the top of the marquee.

Let's take a closer look at the storylines and make some final predictions in the latest edition of ESPN's Cheat Sheets.

Amanda Nunes (14-4) vs. Valentina Shevchenko (14-2), bantamweight championship

Odds: Shevchenko -120; Nunes -110

The UFC has seen several big fights fall apart in 2017, but perhaps none was more shocking than Nunes' sudden withdrawal from UFC 213 in July.

The news broke just hours before doors were scheduled to open in Las Vegas. Nunes, 29, was feeling the effects of a precondition known as sinusitis, and ultimately elected not to compete against Shevchenko.

Public backlash toward Nunes was swift and prompted her team to keep her away from social media. Even two months later, it hasn't completely faded away.

"I don't know why people are thinking I am scared," Nunes said during an international conference call. "I'm never going to run away as a champion. I have to defend this belt."

Accusing a UFC champion of being scared (of an opponent she's already fought) seems silly, but it's clearly had an effect on Nunes. Her condition requires surgery, but she delayed the procedure because she wanted to fight Shevchenko as soon as possible. She's expected to undergo surgery after the fight.

Nunes' stock skyrocketed in 2016 when she defeated Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey, but she's now witnessed how fickle MMA fan bases can be.

According to her partner and manager Nina Ansaroff, they expected the backlash, but when push came to shove, it was a relatively easy decision to pull out of UFC 213.

"When you're starting to see what this life can do for you, and your family has had nothing, you realize 'Why risk it?'" said Ansaroff, who also fights in the UFC. "No one puts anything out there for you until you reach a certain level, so why take that risk for them? No one is going to pay our bills or take care of our family.

"[Without a title], you're going from potentially $1 million per year to $60,000 per year. And you want to put that on the line when you're feeling 50 percent?"

That much will be on the line for Nunes (and Shevchenko) this weekend, but the Brazilian's team is confident she will not have another issue. In addition to a strong nasal spray, which she's cleared to use up until seven days before the fight, the climate of Edmonton in September is obviously vastly different than Las Vegas in July.

Meanwhile, Shevchenko, 29, said she is "double strong" following a lengthy fight camp.

"I took some rest, maybe one week, then just keep going with my training," Shevchenko said. "My lifestyle is never stop training."

Key stats

  • Nunes: 14-4 (7-1 UFC); making second defense of UFC bantamweight title won last July

  • Nunes: 10 wins by knockout, three wins by submission

  • Nunes: Five-fight win streak dating to March 2015, including win over Shevchenko by unanimous decision in March 2016

  • Nunes: 11 of 14 wins in first round (six in UFC, most in women's bantamweight division history)

  • Nunes: Outlanded UFC opponents 241-149 in significant strikes, according to FightMetric (five UFC fights with less than 10 significant strikes absorbed)

  • Nunes: No. 1-ranked women's bantamweight fighter and No. 3-ranked women's pound-for-pound fighter, according to ESPN

  • Shevchenko: 14-2 (3-1 UFC); only UFC loss to Nunes in March 2016

  • Shevchenko: Four wins by knockout, six wins by submission

  • Shevchenko: Scored 10 takedowns in four UFC fights, according to FightMetric

  • Shevchenko: Former kickboxing and Muay Thai world champion

  • Shevchenko: No. 2-ranked women's bantamweight fighter and No. 5-ranked women's pound-for-pound fighter, according to ESPN

Fight breakdown

Is this fight any different than it would have been two months ago?

Probably not. You can ask yourself, "Is one of these two better than the other at mentally refocusing on preparations and peaking again?" Maybe, but who knows? It's a hard thing to predict.

It does give Shevchenko a little extra time to improve her grappling, which did not match up well with Nunes when they fought last year. Nunes won a decision by beating Shevchenko on the floor early, before gassing late. If Shevchenko has built up that part of her game (and there's evidence she has), she'll be a much more difficult foe this time around.

And you do have to wonder about Nunes' cardio, now more than ever. It was a bit puzzling to see her gas against Shevchenko when they fought, as it wasn't a particularly taxing fight. Nunes was kind of having her way then suddenly hit a wall. This time they're scheduled for five rounds. And we are also now aware that Nunes has a sinus condition.

This matchup isn't as simple as a mere cardio challenge, but that's certainly a big part of it. Nunes is ferocious early on, but Shevchenko, although undersized at 135 pounds, is not easily put away. She's a very clever counterstriker, capable of running away on scorecards if Nunes' limbs start to slow in later rounds.

Nunes hit only 2 of 6 takedown attempts in their first meeting, but the more important thing to keep in mind is how much Shevchenko struggled to get up after those takedowns. Will Shevchenko be better in that area? If she's not, will Nunes put her away this time?

Prediction: Shevchenko via decision.