UFC Denver: Pena vs. Shevchenko Breakdown

Valentina Shevchenko (13-2)

Staple info:
  • Height: 5'5" Age: 28 Weight: 135 lbs Reach: 67"
  • Last Fight: Decision win / Holly Holm (7-23-16)
  • Camp: 303 Training Center (Denver, CO)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Southpaw / Muay Thai
  • Risk Management: Good
Supplemental info: + 17x Muay Thai & K-1 Champion
+ 9x IMFA Champion (56-2 pro record)
+ Black Belt Tae Kwon Do (2nd dan)
+ 5 Submission wins
+ 2 KO victories
+ 6 first round finishes
+ Solid fundamental footwork
^ Rarely out of position
+ Accurate check hook & count cross
+ Dangerous knees, elbows, and kicks
+ Competent & crafty clinch game
^ Goop trips, tosses & positional awareness
+ Underrated takedown defense
^ Deceptively strong hips & balance
- Struggles technically from bottom
+ Physically & mentally durable

Julianna Pena (8-2)

Staple info:
  • Height: 5'7" Age: 27 Weight: 135 lbs Reach: 69"
  • Last Fight: Decision win / Cat Zingano (7-9-16)
  • Camp: LCCT BJJ (Chicago, IL)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Fair
Supplemental info: + TUF 18 Winner
+ Regional MMA Title
+ 4 Submission wins
+ 3 KO victories
+ 4 first round finishes
+ Aggressive pace & pressure
+ Shows improvements striking
^ Primarily in offensive technique
- Lacks head movement
^ Counter availabilities on entry
+ Strong inside the clinch
^ Favors inside or outside trips
+ Solid transitional grappler
^ 19 passes in 4 fights
^ Works well toward the back
+ Effective ground striker

Summary: The main event for UFC Denver is a battle for the next bantamweight title challenger as Valentina Shevchenko takes on Julianna Pena.





One of the more highly accoladed Muay Thai practitioners to step into the Octagon, Shevchenko has gone from dark horse to top contender right before our eyes, most recently taking out former champion Holly Holm. Now, the only thing standing in Shevchenko's way from a rematch with the champion, Amanda Nunes, is a fighter who is perhaps her biggest test to date on paper.


Enter Julianna Pena, an aggressive fighter whose fury has translated into a winning streak that she has used to tout for a title shot of her own. Blowing through her competition during an undefeated TUF 18 run, Pena has remained unblemished in the Octagon as she is coming off of two hard-fought victories over tough opponents. Looking to leave no doubts as to who the next title challenger will be, Pena will seek to make a statement in her first main event spot.


Despite being an admitted fan of Shevchenko's style, I initially came into this bout leaning toward Pena as I feel she presents the on paper threats that have traditionally troubled her Kyrgyzstani counterpart. However, upon further film review, I found myself swaying my opinion as I attempt to explain why. Although Pena has the skills to close the show should she get topside, the road to that point could be a dangerous one given each fighter's tendencies. Starting off on the feet, few would argue that Shevchenko should have the clear edge in the striking department.

Coming from a martial arts family as she has been a practitioner since the age of four, Shevchenko has amassed multiple titles in K-1 and the IFMA, an organization where she fought and beat Joanna Jedrzejczyk 3-times. A counter fighter by nature, the general objective and game plan of Shevchenko should be clear against a fighter who inherently needs to close the distance.

An important question about Pena heading into this bout will be the potential improvements to her striking as she has recently relocated her camp to Chicago.

Working with Yair Rodriguez's striking coach, Mike Valle, it will be interesting to see what the approach is for Pena as she deals with such a multi-versed striker. To Pena's credit, she has shown steady improvements to her striking since officially debuting inside the Octagon. That said, most of those improvements have been to her offensive technique as opposed to her defensive technique.


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July 23, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Holly Holm (red gloves) competes against Valentina Shevchenko (blue gloves) in their women's bantamweight bout during UFC Fight Night at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

What stands out most to me is the head movement(or lack thereof) when it comes to Pena's attack. Despite the Venezuelan's aggressiveness accounting for a lot of her success, she is caught in space consistently as her upper body often moves on a swivel while her head stays stationary. In facing the most accurate counter fighter in the division, these type of tendencies could be costly if this is something Pena has not addressed. Where I do see Pena potentially having success is whenever she follows up with her left hand.

Despite Shevchenko being, for the most part, fundamentally sound, left-hands have been the common culprit for strikes landed on her inside of the UFC. Sara Kaufman had success with her left on multiple occasions, and Holm was able to drop Shevchenko in the first round of their fight. Despite Pena presenting problems of her own, she will need to mind her entries as the Venezuelan tends to load up and lean into her right side. Considering that her right side is Shevchenko's power side, Pena could inherently play into the hard Thai kicks and counter crosses of her opponent. However, should Pena attempt your typical on-paper fix of playing to the weak side, she could be unpleasantly surprised as the perceived "weak side" of the southpaw stance is an area I feel Shevchenko is especially dangerous within.

When Shevchenko's previous opponents have tried hard to achieve attack angles around her lead foot, Shevchenko has had no problem showing off her Tae Kwon Do base as she throws spinning back & hook kicks with surprising accuracy. Serving as the cleanup hitter, Shevchenko has a solid check right hook that was on display in her fight with Holly Holm.

Given these diverse threats, I imagine Pena will be doubly-tested against what is her first southpaw opponent inside the Organization. With Pena likely not looking to hang out long on the feet, I feel that the clinch will ultimately become the key factor in this fight. Despite this being a place where Pena traditionally makes her money, she could be in for a rude awakening should she not find success early. Seldom utilizing standard wrestling shots and still yet to even attempt catching a kick to counter, Pena has scored virtually all 8-takedowns in the UFC off of inside or outside trips from the clinch.

Even though Pena does well with these techniques, her aggression tends to lead to over-commitment, which could get her attempts reversed against a crafty clinch fighter like Shevchenko, who also has a taste for similar technics. Criminally underrated in this area, Shevchenko possesses all the tools you would expect from a Muay Thai practitioner. Not only does the Kyrgyzstani wield mean elbows off the break, but she also does deceptive work to the body with knees as I see that paying huge dividends in this fight.

In Pena's last two fights, we saw her abandon her offensive objectives inside the clinch and drop to a guard after absorbing shots to the body. If there's anything to that sample-size, then I expect we may see momentum swings should Shevchenko land her patent knees or liver kick. Clinch-striking aside, the Kyrgyzstani's grappling cannot be overlooked. Though many high-level strikers have failed to develop grappling games in MMA, I feel that fighters who come from traditional Muay Thai backgrounds bring an aspect of grappling that is typically understated.

A devastating striking art with an often overlooked emphasis on clinch wrestling, Shevchenko embraced and excelled in the grappling aspects of Muay Thai as it became a huge key to her success. When most of Shevchenko's opponents were attempting to achieve traditional Thai plums, the Kyrgyzstani would opt for almost Greco Roman-like body locks.

Killing hip space with immediacy, Shevchenko would also shut down her opponents leverage to strike or counter-grapple. Once achieving the body lock, Shevchenko instinctually slides beneath her opponents arms and around to their backs. From here, Shevchenko would show her mean streak with hard knees into her opponents glutes & thighs that parlayed into smooth debasing takedowns that she used to punctuate her presence. With Shevchenko's technics sounding all fine and dandy in theory, the pendulum of this fight could easily sway with one successful takedown from Pena.

One of the best positional players in the division, Shevchenko could find herself in deep waters should she not show improvements from her back. Boasting an impressive 19-passes in 4 fights, Pena is a solid transitional grappler who I imagine is only improving under the great Luiz Claudio. Showing a consistent process, Pena uses pressure through strikes to gain position and inevitably force her opposition into giving their back.

Luckily for Shevchenko, she does not seem to fold under pressure nor turtle out to stand. That said, if the Kyrgyzstani does not display improved technics and options from the bottom, she may suffer a worse fate than she did against Amanda Nunes. Even though Shevchenko was bloodied and almost finished with a deep choke, her physical and mental durability shined through as she barely blinked, much less seemed discouraged as she would come back to almost finish the fight herself.

In Pena's defense, I do not see her fading physically as she has shown to in her last two-fights(contests where she arguably lost the first 6-7 minutes) that she can come back from adversity. Though Shevchenko taking the initiative or ending up on top would not surprise me, she will need to mind overstaying her welcome as Pena has solid under-hook getups and reversals from single-leg or turtle variations.

Nevertheless, I feel that if Pena does not find success in submitting or stopping Shevchenko with cuts via elbows, her efforts may turn into diminishing returns as this fight wears on. Although Pena getting things done on the ground is more than a possibility, I see her previously mentioned holes and tells eventually catching fire against a tactician who may very well be the best five-round fighter in the division.

Official Pick: Shevchenko - Inside the distance

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Donald Cerrone (32-7)

Staple info:
  • Height: 5'11" Age: 33 Weight: 170 lbs Reach: 73"
  • Last Fight: KO win / Matt Brown (12-10-16)
  • Camp: Jackson-Wink MMA (New Mexico)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Muay Thai
  • Risk Management: Fair
Supplemental info: + Multiple Muay Thai Titles
+ 28-0 as a Pro Kickboxer
+ 8 KO victories
+ 16 Submission wins
+ 13 first round finishes
+ KO Power
+ Intelligent strike setups
^ Feints, reads, and reacts
+ Devastating head kicks
+ Accurate & intercepting knees
+ Hard leg kicks
^ Most landed in UFC history
+ Underrated wrestling ability
+ Excellent transitional grappler
^ Favors triangle chokes
- Head & posture often upright
^ Overhand & body shot availability

Jorge Masvidal (31-11)

Staple info:
  • Height: 5'11" Age: 32 Weight: 170 lbs Reach: 73"
  • Last Fight: TKO win / Jake Ellenberger (12-3-16)
  • Camp: American Top Team (Florida)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Fair
Supplemental info: + AFC Welterweight Title
+ Undefeated in the streets
+ 12 KO victories
+ 2 Submission wins
+ 7 first round finishes
+ Slick boxing technique
^ Accurate shot selection
+ Improved kicking game
^ Defensively & offensively
+ Solid balance & footwork
+ Active transition & clinch game
^ Strikes well off the breaks
+ Excellent wrestling ability
+ Underrated submission game
^ Works well from front-headlock
+/-Sometimes shells upright
^ Body shot & overhand openings
Summary: The co-main event for UFC Denver is a potential welterweight war as Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone squares off with Jorge "Gamebred" Masvidal.

Always an 'any time any place' kind of fighter, Cerrone has seemed to have found himself a nice home 15-pounds north as 2016 saw him become an undefeated welterweight. Looking to take things a step further by cementing himself in the title picture, Cerrone will seek to make another statement on the main stage. Coming into the theme from Scarface and looking to spoil Cerrone's homecoming, Masvidal is not opposed to playing the part of the bad guy to get what he wants.

Beloved by the fans but not so much by the judges, Masvidal will look to leave no doubts as he attempts to cash in on what is arguably his biggest opportunity in the UFC to date. In what I believe will be a close fight decided upon inches, you can make credible arguments for either man as my opinion admittedly changed as my studies went on. That said, I will do my best to present points from both sides as per usual.

Starting off on the feet, I expect an entertaining, but a tightly contested battle of technical strikers. With each man having unique advantages over one another, Cerrone should have the edge when striking at distance. Embracing his frame and kickboxing base, Cerrone does an excellent job of using teeps and legs kicks at range. Mixing in punches appropriately, Cerrone will draw out his opposition's defenses to set up fight-ending head kicks.

When Cerrone's opponent tries to close-in on his preferred range, he will intercept them with accurate check-knees up the middle. Despite these techniques working well against lighter weight fighters, Donald would need to upgrade his game to counter the pressure from bigger, stronger welterweights, and he did just that. Enter Brandon Gibson. The quiet storm in the striking department at Jackson-Wink MMA, his help has shown in this recent iteration of Donald Cerrone. Moving his head and torso offline and at angles, Cerrone will unload his punches with different mechanics than before----as he now has more of a presence inside the pocket.

Often punching his way out of exchanges with his left-hook, Cerrone will feed his newfound flow it into his patent head kicks as his arsenal is much more symbiotic. Even though Cerrone is showing a solid technical-renaissance, he will still need to mind the areas that have traditionally plagued him. As we saw in his last fight against Matt Brown, Cerrone's recent upgrades can still become unwound when the appropriate pressure is applied. Although Cerrone has more offensive tools on paper, Masvidal could pose some real problems if he brings the pressure he is advertising.

Despite not being the most explosive mover or striker, Masvidal closes the distance deceptively well as he utilizes subtle angles to enter. Working well off of his left hand, Jorge will look to create angles as he tries to encourage his opposition to pull and return punches with him. However, I suspect we may see Masvidal take a page out of Nate Diaz's playbook by applying pressure-boxing. Another one of MMA's slick boxers, Nate Diaz was able to abuse Cerrone's centerline with jab-cross continuums in their fight. Should Masvidal find his rhythm early, we could see him start to pile on the pressure as this has been more of his style since moving to up to welterweight.


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With this in mind, Cerrone will have to be careful any time he finds himself in between the fence and inner-black Octagon lines as this is his Cuban counterpart's preferred kill zone. Working to the body with regularity and impunity, you can start to see the tools that are possibly fueling Masvidal's confidence. What makes Masvidal such a sound stalker, is the fact that you will rarely catch him out of position. Not only does this keep Masvidal's striking and countering arsenals open, but it also lends to his takedown defense as he consistently keeps balance in his form----something that could come in handy against a level-changing Cerrone.

Well noted for his boxing technique, we have seen Jorge Masvidal steadily mature as the rest of his game caught up to his striking. Demonstrating upgrades to his kicking game, Masvidal will sprinkle in switch & spin kicks with regularity as I suspect we may see him target the body in this bout. More importantly, Masvidal has shown recent improvements to his kicking defense. Long criticized for his lackadaisical tendencies, Masvidal has traditionally treated leg checks as low priority objectives. But in his fight with Lorenz Larkin, we would see upgrades to Masvidal's urgency as he showed to check and counter competently.

Despite ultimately losing a close decision due to Larkin's stifling speed and power, the Cuban's efforts and intentions through adversity spoke volumes. Nevertheless, Masvidal is not without susceptibilities of his own as they similarly resemble his opponent. Even when Masvidal elects to keep his shields up, he usually utilizes a shell-defense. Coupled with his upright posture, this typically has opened up Masvidal to overhand rights and body kicks as these have been his common culprits inside of the Octagon.

Potential openings aside, I feel that the heat gets turned to 10 anytime these two transfer between boxing and clinching ranges. Even though Cerrone's clinch game is not as offensively-minded as you may initially think, he does a deceptively good job of maintaining his base and stifling his opponent as he looks to strike off the break. Considering that Masvidal also likes to strike off the break, I would not be surprised to see momentum changes happen here as this space will certainly be the most flammable.

As far as ground fighting goes, it is hard to give a definitive edge either way as both men are criminally underrated in multiple areas. Despite me feeling that Masvidal is a slightly better wrestler, being on top of Cerrone will be no picnic should that be the path he chooses. Also, Cerrone's aforementioned level changes are a live threat to stifle Masvidal's advances. However, should a Cerrone shot fail, he could find himself in a disadvantageous spot given that Masvidal's transition game comes to life whenever working from a front-headlock. Since neither man will likely be submitted soberly, I suspect the slight advantage will go to the fighter who is actively emphasizing to get on top.

Given that they are both solid scramblers, I ultimately do not see ground stanzas lasting long. In a fight where I initially came in favoring Cerrone as I feel he is the deserved favorite, I now find myself unable to side confidently with the cowboy. Call it a hunch or call it a bias, but I believe this bout contains some surprises as I suggest betting lightly and enjoying heavily.



Official Pick: Masvidal - Decision

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Andrei Arlovski (25-13)

Staple info:
  • Height: 6'4" Age: 37 Weight: 241 lbs Reach: 77"
  • Last Fight: Submission loss / Josh Barnett (9-3-16)
  • Camp: Jackson-Wink MMA (New Mexico)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Orthodox / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Fair
Supplemental info: + Former UFC Heavyweight Champion + Multiple Sambo Accolades + 17 KO victories + 3 Submission wins + 13 first round finishes + KO Power ^ Heavy-hands + Accurate right hand + Deceptive hand & foot speed +/-Blitzes on stunned opponents ^ Counter availabilities + Strong inside the clinch ^ Stifles/favors outside trips +/-Plays it safe grappling ^ Primarily looks to stall - Low strike retractions - Dropped or stopped in last 5-fights

Francis Ngannou (9-1)

Staple info:
  • Height: 6'4" Age: 30 Weight: 257 lbs Reach: 83"
  • Last Fight: Submission win / Anthony Hamilton (12-9-16)
  • Camp: MMA Factory (France)
  • Stance/Striking Style: Switch-stance / Kickboxing
  • Risk Management: Good
Supplemental info: + Regional MMA Accolades + 5 KO victories + 4 Submission wins + 5 first round finishes + KO power + Physically athletic & imposing + Accurate & active w/left hand ^ Jabs, uppercuts, crosses & hooks + Manages distance well ^ Solid feints & footwork + Hard knees in the clinch + Improved takedown defense ^ Deceptively agile hips + Good get-up technics ^ Cage & under-hook awareness + Maintains composure & endurance - Questionable off of back
Summary: In an exciting heavyweight showdown, former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski meets rising prospect Francis Ngannou.

Coming off of a late career resurgence, Arlovski will look to spark old fires when he steps inside of the cage at UFC Denver. Well past his debut against Aaron Brink back at UFC 28, Arlovski will not be expected to create the hype, as he is now tasked with halting it. A longtime fan favorite, the former champ will attempt to change that narrative with a reminder that he is still a force in the UFC heavyweight stable.

A breath of fresh air to a division in dire need of it, Ngannou made his presence known when he entered the UFC, knocking out Luis Henrique de Oliveira in emphatic fashion. What is most impressive about Ngannou, is the fact that he has only been competing in combat sports for three years. In such time, the Frenchman has shown a maturity and development that is uncommon as he looks to test his growth against higher level competition.

Beginning on the feet, I feel that this fight could start slower than most may think given how each man likes to feel out their foe and counter in the opening frame. Although Arlovski should have the striking advantage given his experience and acumen, I give the edge to Ngannou as I see his power, versatility, and overall upward trend being a big part of this fight's underlying theme. Despite the imposing presence and knockout power, Ngannou refreshingly relies on neither to get the job done.

Whether throwing straight or variating his patent up-jabs & shovel-hooks, Ngannou primarily conducts traffic off of his left hand. Keeping active and accurate with it, most of his danger will come off that side as it is the common conduit to Ngannou's combinations. Furthermore, Ngannou has shown to fight competently and consistently from southpaw in recent affairs, which will only open up his arsenal more. Utilizing feints and pivots well with his footwork, the Cameroon native keeps a good sense of space as he manages distance well.

Demonstrating a deceptive athleticism and agility within his hips, Ngannou has shown the ability----inside and out of the Octagon----to defend or return to his base. Coupled with the addition of under-hook fundamentals, we have seen Ngannou improve in his ability to defend takedowns and get back to his feet. Accustom to his opposition trying to take him down, Ngannou has spent the early portion of his career having to defend takedowns from the fence. Spreading out his 6'4″ frame into a wide base, Ngannou keeps calm and collected as he demonstrates surprising muscular endurance despite his build.



With that in mind, Ngannou may be tested as Arlovski has a propensity to clinch with his opposition. Despite possessing a nice outside trip from the clinch, Arlovski lacks activity from here as he typically looks to stifle. Though Ngannou continues to show technical improvements each fight, he will need to be careful not to get lulled to sleep by Arlovski, who still offers strikes off the break in the form of punches and elbows.
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Even if the former champion's best days are arguably behind him, he is still dangerous coming forward and off of the counter as power is the last thing to go. An increasingly measured striker as he has matured, Arlovski will keep at the ready with his pressure as he steadily awaits just outside of range.

Similar to many Winkeljohn-trained fighters, Arlovski will use the outside-range as a staging area for combinations executed as bombing runs. Despite the previously mention patience, Arlovski still shows a habit of chasing stunned opponents as this could cost him badly against Ngannou. Stopping power and accuracy aside, Arlovksi tends to get sloppy when he gets excited as even his patent cross-uppercut continuums begin to retract-low and invite counter shots. Right about now is where I would suggest that Arlovski looks to use his ground advantages, however, I am not sure those checkmarks will translate off of the page.

Although Arlovski was once known for his Sambo stylings, we have steadily seen him shy away from the armbars and heel-hooks he would go for early in his career. As the ground game in MMA has progressed, Arlovski has not shown to move with this trend as he primarily looks to stall for stand-ups and plays it safe. Against an uprising phenom, I am not so sure there is such thing as playing it safe, especially given what we saw Francis Ngannou force upon Anthony Hamilton.

Possible skill gaps aside, Hamilton is still a physical specimen himself as well as a competent grappler. Still yet, Ngannou was able to work a figure-four grip to sway Hamilton to the floor as he forced a leverage point upon him. Regardless of the fact the Arlovski was taken down similarly in his last outing, the battle for the aging veteran will likely be uphill and unpredictable as he steps in with a prospect who shows improvements each time out.

Although any heavyweight favorite at four-to-one odds is hard for me to swallow these days, I feel that Francis Ngannou gets it done with authority. As an Arlovski fan, I hope I am wrong, but I know this sport too well to trust it with stories like this.


Official Pick: Ngannou - Inside the distance

Preliminary Card Predictions:

  • Knight def. Caceres
  • Marquardt def. Alvey
  • Assuncao def. Sterling
  • Jingliang def. Nash
  • Johnson def. da Silva
  • Spicely def. Di Chirico
  • Rogerio de Lima def. Kimball
  • Pantoja def. Shelton
  • Cottrell def. Gonzalez
For my complete works of past UFC breakdowns and analysis visit MixedMartialAnalyst.com and for future breakdowns & your latest in world-wide MMA news, stay tuned to FloCombat.com

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