UFC 215
UFC poster. Credit UFC.

Welcome to The Verdict, a new regular MMA Plus feature where we take a look at each UFC main event in-depth once the smoke has cleared. No snap judgements, no jumping the gun, just the biggest talking points and conclusions from the weekend’s UFC 215 headline bout between Amanda Nunes and Valentina Shevchenko.

UFC 215 took place on Saturday, September 9 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and according to UFC officials, drew a sellout crowd of 16,232 for a $2.03m gate on the promotion’s debut in the city. This was despite refunds being offered due to the late withdrawal of flyweight contender Ray Borg which caused the cancellation of the evening’s main event. Bonus payments were made to both Jeremy Stephens and Gilbert Melendez for their main card “fight of the night” effort and performance bonuses were also awarded to Rafael Dos Anjos and Henry Cejudo.

Women’s Bantamweight Title Bout: Amanda Nunes def. Valentina Shevchenko via Decision (Split) (47-48, 48-47, 48-47)

As the boos rained down from the rafters of Rogers Place during and after the UFC 215 main event, women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes learnt the same hard lesson as welterweight kingpin Tyron Woodley has lately; championship gold does not guarantee adulation.

With the clash quickly becoming a chess match where strategy and fight IQ took precedence over action, it did not take long for the fans to turn on “The Lioness” who had swapped her explosive and high-pressure fight style for a patient and cautious one. Although this can be partly attributed to Nunes’ attempts to fix the previous issues she has had with her cardio, it also seemed the change was in direct response to the counterpunching threat offered up by the challenger. For a champion who was so adamant about fear not playing a factor, she certainly fought like she was afraid to lose.

Despite doing enough to get the win, the lukewarm performance could not have come at a worse time for the Brazilian. Revealing she is due to have surgery to fix the sinus issues that have plagued her and would be taking a break from the sport post-fight, Nunes will likely not return until early 2018. This paired with her late withdrawal from UFC 213 and her tepid performance in this most recent title defence has seen the fans quickly forget just how good Nunes looked when defeating Ronda Rousey and she will hope that absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder for her return or face her stock reaching its lowest ebb since becoming champion.

Valentina Shevchenko – Photo, UFC YouTube.

Meanwhile, Valentina Shevchenko may be justified in feeling hard done by after another razor-thin split decision, however, any forthcoming appeal is unlikely to be successful. After watching the fight twice, there is no doubt that on a purely points basis, Nunes take rounds one, three and five whilst Shevchenko takes rounds two and four however by the end of the bout, there is an unshakable feeling that the wrong person had their hand raised.

The problem with this decision was not down to the judges, but instead down to the rigid “10-point must” scoring system still in place. Despite the changes made to the scoring criteria this year, there is still not enough done to discern between landed strikes and those with power and intent. This argument although, is for a whole other article. The bottom line is “The Bullet” landed the most damaging and powerful shots in the fight and won her rounds by far bigger margins than the champion, however, was punished by a scoring system that still doesn’t allow flexibility for these factors.

With a lack of depth and quality in the women’s bantamweight division, Shevchenko will surely remain in the title picture, with only Raquel Pennington and Ketlen Vieira also holding a strong contender claim. A win over either of those fighters could see the 29-year-old get her rematch sooner rather than later. A better option for Shevchenko could be a move to the newly formed flyweight division. At present, the Kyrgyzstan fighter is smaller than ideal for her present division and weighed in 1.5lb under the bantamweight limit before Saturday’s bout. Dropping to a more natural weight of 125lb could well see Shevchenko’s natural abilities magnified and lead to her becoming a dangerous force in the UFC’s newest division.