<
>

Shevchenko's takedown defense will be vital vs. Carmouche

play
Shevchenko reflects on 2010 fight vs. Carmouche (1:18)

Valentina Shevchenko looks back at her first bout against Liz Carmouche, the only fight she's lost via stoppage. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc. (1:18)

Can Liz Carmouche defy the odds and upset Valentina Shevchenko on Saturday when the UFC makes its Uruguay debut?

Since moving down to flyweight in February 2018, the flyweight champion Shevchenko has dominated with three straight victories, including a unanimous decision win over Joanna Jedrzejczyk in December to win the belt. In Carmouche she will find a veteran challenger who has been competing in the UFC since 2013 -- and someone who handed Shevchenko one of her only career losses in 2010.

There are several clear statistical divergences that highlight key stylistic differences between the fighters. Let's break it down.


Striking differential

Shevchenko holds a +0.84 striking differential, which is above average (+0.78) among ranked flyweights. Striking differential is significant strikes landed per minute minus significant strikes absorbed per minute. While Shevchenko lands a respectable 3.28 significant strikes per minute, she really sets herself apart from the rest of the division with her defense. During her UFC career (eight fights), she has avoided 61% of her opponents' significant strike attempts and absorbed only 2.44 per minute.

Carmouche has rather similar striking numbers. While her striking differential is slightly below average at +0.46, she absorbs only 2.63 per minute. At times Carmouche is overly reliant on her wrestling, but she has still managed to land 3.09 significant strikes per minute in her UFC/Strikeforce career (13 fights).

Shevchenko and Carmouche spent the majority of their careers at bantamweight since the UFC did not adopt the flyweight division until 2017. Both fighters now have three UFC fights at flyweight. While that is a small sample size, it seems as if Shevchenko has found the new weight class much more hospitable.

At flyweight Carmouche has landed 2.58 significant strikes per minute, while absorbing 2.18, for a +0.40 striking differential. However, Shevchenko's numbers have spiked since changing weights. As a flyweight, the champion has landed 4.81 significant strikes per minute and absorbed only 2.06 for a +2.75 differential.

While it may still be too early to say definitively, it certainly seems as if the move has opened things up for the champion from a striking perspective. Shevchenko comes from a traditional kickboxing and Muay Thai background. It is entirely possible that the move to a lighter division has assisted her defensive wrestling and thus allowed her to better implement her standup striking offense. If that is the case, Carmouche may struggle in the striking exchanges.


Striking position

Like most traditional strikers Shevchenko does the majority of her striking at a distance, which is defined as standing and not in the clinch. During her UFC career, 61% of her landed significant strikes have been at distance. Her leading secondary striking position is the ground, where 27% of her landed significant strikes have come. However, those numbers are somewhat misleading. Shevchenko has landed 116 significant ground strikes in her UFC career, but 84 of those came in a single fight -- her one-sided battering of Priscila Cachoeira last year (a rear naked choke submission victory in Round 2). Excluding the Cachoeira fight, 75% of Shevchenko's landed significant strikes have come at distance.

Unlike Shevchenko, Carmouche uses ground striking as an essential element of her attack. Although 49% of her landed significant strikes have come at distance, 33% have come on the floor. During her UFC/Strikeforce career, she has averaged 16.14 significant ground strikes in seven victories and only 9.66 in her six losses. Carmouche's ability to implement her ground striking game will say a lot about her chances to pull off the upset and take the title.


Takedowns

Not only does Carmouche execute a large portion of her striking on the ground, she also excels at putting the fight on the floor. She averages 2.95 takedowns per 15 minutes of fight time, which is the best rate among ranked flyweights. Carmouche lands only 55% of her takedown attempts, but she makes up for that by attempting 5.37 per 15 minutes.

Against Shevchenko, Carmouche will certainly need that volume. The champion successfully stops 73% of the takedown attempts against her, which is the third-best defense among ranked flyweights. During her UFC career, she has been taken down only six times, and four of those came in her two-fight series against bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes. Since moving down to flyweight, Shevchenko has not surrendered a single takedown. Taking down Shevchenko will likely prove to be a difficult task for Carmouche. However, considering her overall style it might be a necessary element of her attack. If the fight remains at distance, Shevchenko will almost certainly have the advantage.


Striking target

If Shevchenko is able to stop takedowns and keep the fight at a distance, there might still be an interesting wrinkle for Carmouche to try to exploit. During her UFC/Strikeforce career, 34% of her landed significant strikes have come against her opponents' legs. While Carmouche does not have the reputation of a vaunted leg kicker, that is a larger proportion than your typical fighter.

It is usually not a good idea for a lesser striker to throw leg kicks at a classically trained standup fighter. The kicks can be checked or countered with devastating results. However, Shevchenko has been surprisingly vulnerable to leg strikes considering her background. In her UFC career, 41% of the significant strikes landed against her have impacted her legs. It is possible that this is a calculated approach from the champion, who may be willing to absorb leg strikes if it means protecting her head and body. However, Carmouche may have more success if she fully incorporates leg kicks into her offensive game plan.