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Travel junkie Valentina Shevchenko found the perfect career to indulge her other passion

Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
(Yahoo Sports illustration)
(Yahoo Sports illustration)

Valentina Shevchenko’s passion in life, besides fighting, is travel. A glance at her Instagram page is like a travelogue of some of the world’s most scenic places, especially if it involves water.

She now lives in Las Vegas, so she can take advantage of the facilities at the UFC Performance Institute. And so she has the requisite shots of boating at Lake Mead, touring Hoover Dam, hiking amid the rugged beauty of Red Rock Canyon and attending a show on the Strip.

But there’s also a beautiful sunset in Montevideo, Uruguay; a portrait of the sun peeking between the clouds over the Delaware River in Trenton, New Jersey; demonstrating a kick on the shores of the Yangtze River in Shanghai, China; a walk along the shores of Lake Michigan in Chicago; and a beautiful spring photo of her sister, Antonina, underneath a blooming tree in Khadyzhensk, Russia.

Oh, and she also posted photos from her native Kyrgyzstan in which she was honored at a ceremony by President Sooronbay Jeenbekov.

Her job, now as the UFC women’s flyweight champion, has taken her around the world. In her amateur and pro career spanning boxing, kickboxing and mixed martial arts, Shevchenko has fought in 16 countries on four continents, including seven U.S. states.

On Saturday, she’ll defend her title against Liz Carmouche in the main event of a UFC Fight Night on ESPN+ in Montevideo, Uruguay, which will be the 17th country she’s fought in.

She travels for her job. She travels for her vacations. She travels because it’s a large part of who she is.

“It’s one of my favorite things,” she said. “I love to go to new countries and see different places and experience different cultures. It’s one of the amazing things about our sport is that it gives me this opportunity. Travel is a huge part of my life. I love to explore new things and find out about the people and the cities around the world.”

She’s been able to indulge her passion as she’s turned herself into one of the most dangerous fighters in the world. She’s No. 2 on the Yahoo Sports women’s MMA pound-for-pound list, behind only bantamweight/featherweight champion Amanda Nunes, and has improved dramatically each time out.

She credits that to her love of the sport and her desire to push her limits. If she likes anything in life more than traveling, it’s training and trying to perfect something she’d struggled to do the day before.

Valentina Shevchenko celebrates after defeating Jessica Eye during their women's flyweight title mixed martial arts bout at UFC 238, Saturday, June 8, 2019, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)
Valentina Shevchenko celebrates after defeating Jessica Eye during their women's flyweight title mixed martial arts bout at UFC 238, Saturday, June 8, 2019, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)

When a fighter with elite talent has that kind of desire and eagerness to work, special things occur.

“She is scary, man,” UFC president Dana White said, laughing. “There’s not going to be a lot of them lining up looking to fight her.”

Shevchenko is now making a comfortable living, more money than she ever dreamed she’d make. But the money hardly fuels her. She’s up early each morning because she loves to fight.

You get the sense talking to her she’d do it for free, which like many women, she actually did when she was on the rise.

“There were cases where I’d have to pay to travel and not be [reimbursed] and I had to pay for my training expenses and everything and I would end up after the fight with less money than I had before it. But it was OK; I never looked at it like a problem, because fighting is my true passion. I love the martial arts; all of them, and I have a job that gives me all of these opportunities. I’m so [fortunate].”

She’s out to avenge one of only three losses she suffered in her 20-fight MMA career. Two were to Nunes, and both were close, particularly the rematch. But long before most UFC fans had ever heard of her name, she fought Carmouche in Concho, Oklahoma.

Carmouche insists she signed to fight Antonina Shevchenko, not Valentina, and that a switch was made the week of the fight. Valentina Shevchenko recalls it differently and said she had been offered the fight long before and that her sister wasn’t doing MMA at the time. Antonina had three MMA fights in 2005 and then none until 2017.

Either way, it was a bout between two stars before they were fully developed as MMA fighters. Shevchenko, though, said she thinks that bout will help her because she has a keen recollection of Carmouche.

Carmouche has grown tremendously since then, and Shevchenko, true to form, said she prepared for whatever attack Carmouche tries to mount.

“She’s a complete fighter and she doesn’t have this obvious weakness,” Shevchenko said. “She can stand up. Obviously, she loves to wrestle and she’s comfortable when it goes to the ground. I’m expecting anything and everything, because I know her talents. I have been training for more than 24 years in the martial arts, and so I know what to expect. It doesn’t matter what she is going to bring, because I have experience with all of it.”

Regardless of how the bout turns out — Shevchenko is as high as a 14-1 favorite — count on seeing some incredible sunset photos of Uruguay on her Instagram account next week.

MMA might be the most unpredictable of all sports, but her travel photos are all but a given.

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