Ariel & The Bad Guy: Who can challenge Valentina Shevchenko at 125?

Valentina Shevchenko continued her dominant run by knocking out Jessica Eye at UFC 238. Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

If there was one lasting image from UFC 238 this past Saturday, chances are it was when women's flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko put Jessica Eye to sleep with a vicious head kick.

The scene was frightening, really. Eye, the No. 1 contender, was out cold for several minutes as she was being attended to by a medical staff. But that sight was perhaps the most telling example of just how dominant Shevchenko has been in her recent fights.

So, with the division's top contender having fallen, the question for Shevchenko is: Who can challenge her at 125? Or can anyone?

This was one topic discussed in this week's Ariel & The Bad Guy episode, streamed exclusively on ESPN+.

Ariel Helwani: Chael, I'm going to cross my legs like you because I feel like it's time to get serious. I feel like you need a cup of coffee. ...

Chael Sonnen: Yes. Let's get serious.

Helwani: ... And really lean into each other. This is a serious fighter right here. What she did to Jessica Eye on Saturday was scary. You weren't there, you were watching at home. I was watching it. It took Jessica Eye at least three, four minutes to just sit up, so that was scary. She's that darn good.

I feel like the gap between her and the rest of the division reminds me a little bit of when Demetrious Johnson was champion. I would argue that the gap is even bigger between Valentina Shevchenko and the rest of the contenders at 125, and I think the talk coming out of Saturday was Katlyn Chookagian. She's now on a one-fight winning streak, she has a loss against Jessica Eye. I don't know if Katlyn is ready for someone like Valentina Shevchenko and so I just reported earlier today that the UFC is now talking about potentially doing Liz Carmouche versus Valentina Shevchenko July 20 in San Antonio. They need a main event for that card.

And initially I was like: All right, Liz Carmouche, veteran, tough. Now the more I think about it, I don't hate it and I'll tell you why. Two reasons. No. 1, Liz Carmouche actually has a win over Valentina Shevchenko. She beat her in 2010, she gave Valentina her first pro loss. No. 2, there's a great story there with Liz: One-half of the first-ever women's fight in UFC history -- remember Ronda Rousey in Anaheim? -- tough, gritty veteran. She's not going to be intimidated, she's not going to back down. I don't think there's anyone that can compare, but if we had to pick one, I don't hate Liz being that one.

Sonnen: And I'm not thrilled about participating in this, quite frankly, Ariel, and I'll tell you why. I don't think there's anybody that can compete. I think Jessica Eye was the rightful No. 1 contender and as much as you want to celebrate that head kick and talk about how amazing it was -- and it was -- it wasn't the highlight of the fight. The highlight of the fight took place at the very end of the first round when "The Bullet" put on that arm lock, stepped over the head, secured the arm and almost finished that. Now Jessica Eye rolled out of it, but that was very high-level technique, in conjunction with "The Bullet" previously, to get to that position, slipping a hook, coming to her body, tripping her. She showed grappling to the highest of levels.

This girl is intimidating. This girl is Amanda Nunes-esque. And when you ask about who I want to see go in there, until I see a young lady raise their hand and say, 'I want to do this,' I don't want to draft anybody because I feel like I'm sending a lamb into slaughter. She is simply one of the best fighters in all of the UFC. And we always see a division of the genders here. I'm willing to say she's amongst the best females. At this weight, her at 125 pounds, she just simply can't be stopped.

You want to know who's most competitive with her? You're not going to love this answer, the fight isn't going to happen ... Joanna [Jedrzejczyk]. Joanna is the one that can compete with her the closest. Joanna is one of the best fighters in the world, and I'll tell you why. She is a No. 1 contender in two different weight classes. There is not two women that can beat her at 115, there is not two women that can beat her at 125. But she's also having trouble getting to the very top. Competitively, I don't think they're going to make that match. If you want to know who I can trust and relax and I know can take care of herself and come out of there in one piece and not have four minutes with the medics, it's Joanna Not Champion.

Helwani: I missed you on Saturday, but I mostly missed you because I didn't get to hear you say, "The Bullet." It's always great to cover a Valentina fight with you because you always just call her "The Bullet."

Sonnen: "The Bullet."

Helwani: And so I told the crew I really miss Chael right now, so I'm happy that I got to actually hear you call her "The Bullet."

Sonnen: Thank you.

Helwani: Do you think this is a bad thing? I don't think this is a bad thing for the UFC. I don't think having a really dominant champion -- I don't want to call her Mike Tyson, but it's the laziest comparison when you have someone who instills the fear of God in their opponent, who goes out there and you know something crazy is going to happen. I don't think that's bad. I don't think that's bad for business. I'd much rather that than a champion that everyone is lukewarm about that's just skating through their fights, getting decisions. This is a good thing. She is coming off like a star, and then she does the whole dancing gimmick afterward. ...

Sonnen: The best. Best part of the night.

Helwani: Right? It's great, it's fun. Some people think that having this discrepancy between the champion and the rest of the contenders is bad, I would strongly argue it's good. It's good to have someone that dominant. What do you think?

Sonnen: Can I piggyback that idea? I love your comparison that you just made to her and Mike Tyson because she's that scary, she's that intimidating. However, from a marketing standpoint she's totally the opposite. I'm very excited to see where this experiment goes. When you have somebody as dominant and, quite frankly, she is ruthless. She doesn't care if she breaks your ribs, she doesn't care if she kicks you in the head. She's ruthless, but she's very sweet. She puts on a nice interview, she's got a nice voice, she's very peasant when you look at her. She puts on a great dance afterward -- I stopped what I was doing to make sure I could see that dance. I love it. From a marketing standpoint, she is something very unique and there is something special there and it's only going to take time. It's an experiment. We're going to have to see. I've never seen somebody with the Mike Tyson-esque fear, but also with this lightheartedness all the rest of the time. I'm very compelled to her, but I'm also very cautious to elevate somebody else because it's intimidating. It's an intimidating and long evening. If your name is not Amanda Nunes, I'm not sure you can take care of yourself.

Helwani: Also, she's a legit superstar back home. She comes from Kyrgyzstan and the UFC is talking about maybe doing a show there or in nearby Kazakhstan. But she is a legit megastar over there.

I don't know, you're not buying Liz. I like the Liz story.

Sonnen: I like Liz.

Helwani: OK.

Sonnen: No, I love the backstory that you offered. I actually did not know that until you said it, but yes, that is true. You refreshed my memory. I think it was around 2010 or 2011. Liz not only beat her, but she stopped her, Ariel. There's a story there.