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Antonina Shevchenko Keeps Flying High

Valentina's Big Sister Piloting Her Own Path Up The Flyweight Ranks

Anyone that has followed the career of Antonina Shevchenko knows that she, her younger sister, UFC flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko, and their coach, Pavel Fedotov, enjoy traveling the world and training in different locations.

Earlier this year, the elder Shevchenko added a new method for the group to get from city-to-city when she earned her commercial pilot’s license.

Take a Flying Lesson With Antonina Shevchenko
Take a Flying Lesson With Antonina Shevchenko

“I always wanted to be a pilot,” begins Shevchenko, who returns to the Octagon this weekend in a clash with Andrea Lee. “I think when we moved to the United States, it was a good time and a good place to start because the infrastructure here for general aviation is the best in the world. There are all kinds of flight schools, you can buy a plane, and all systems for general aviation are great.

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“When we still lived in Houston, my coach, Pavel, he started to fly, and when we moved to Nevada, to Las Vegas, I found a school and thought, ‘This is the time to start.’

“Once I started, I couldn’t stop because it’s so amazing and I fell in love with it,” she adds with a laugh. “I received my private pilot’s license, my instrument rating to fly in clouds, and just recently I got my commercial license.”

Last month, the group traveled to Jacksonville, Florida for UFC 261, where Valentina successfully defended her flyweight title with a second-round stoppage win over Jessica Andrade. This week, they’re off to Houston, where Antonina will look to earn a second consecutive victory and take another step up the divisional ladder when she squares off with Lee.

Las Vegas 5/27/18 - Antonina Shevchenko at the UFC Performance Institute in las Vegas preparing for Dana White's Tuesday Night Contender Series. (Photo credit: Juan Cardenas)
Getting ready for that DWCS debut, 2018 (Photo by Juan Cardenas/Zuffa LLC)

The trio is practically inseparable, with training and competing being one of the ties that has always bound them together. The sisters are always working together, training alongside one another, and when one competes, the other is there in the corner, feeling more nervous than the one that is inside the cage.

“When I see Valentina going to fight, I’m more nervous,” says the elder Shevchenko, who registered a second-round stoppage win over Ariane Lipski last time out at UFC 255. Six fights later, the younger half of the first sister act in UFC history scored a dominant decision win over Jennifer Maia, making it a tremendous night all around for the talented tandem.

“It’s always like this — you’re more nervous when your sister fights or somebody close to you,” she continues. “When you go into the fight, you’re already in this fighter mode, focused mode, and the only thing you’re worried about is to perform; you know everything. Sitting there and watching her go fight, it just makes me nervous because I can’t do anything other than support her.”

While she can’t do anything other than support her sister on Fight Night, the duo have been pushing each other as martial artists and competitors for the majority of their lives, and watching her younger sister ascend to the heights she’s reached has only pushed Antonina to work even harder as she continues in her transition from Muay Thai to mixed martial arts.

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“We don’t have same training camp, but it’s close, and watching her, looking at her as she prepared for her title defense — seeing how hard she was working — it gives me even more motivation to prepare for my fight,” says Shevchenko, who made the full-time move to MMA in the fall of 2017 and made her UFC debut 14 months later with a victory over Ji Yeon Kim. “This is what we love to do and what we’ve done before, and I’m hoping this time we both win our fights.”

Valentina collected her victory a couple weeks ago, and now it’s Antonina’s turn.

Saturday’s contest against Lee is the latest in a recurring pattern of fights that make up Shevchenko’s run in the UFC to date.

After earning her contract with a second-round finish on the Contender Series and beating Kim in her debut, the 36-year-old got a matchup with Top 10 fixture and veteran Roxanne Modafferi in her sophomore outing, landing on the wrong side of a split decision loss. Less than four months later, Shevchenko got back into the win column with a second-round submission win over Lucie Pudilova, pushing her record to 8-1.

Antonina Shevchenko performs an open workout for fans and media with her sister Valentina Shevchenko during the UFC Fight Night Open Workouts event at A2 Green Concert Hall on April 17, 2019 in Saint Petersburg, Russia. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
A family affair at open workouts, April 17, 2019 in Saint Petersburg, Russia. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Her next bout landed her in the Octagon opposite Katlyn Chookagian, who had unsuccessfully challenged Valentina for the flyweight title a little more than three months earlier. Once again, Shevchenko landed on the wrong side of the results, dropping a unanimous decision to the more seasoned, highly ranked contender.

Having dispatched Lipski back in November, Shevchenko knew another step up in competition was coming, but believes this weekend’s pairing with Lee represents a more reasonable escalation and a greater opportunity to maintain the momentum she built late last year as she steps into the Octagon for the first time in 2021.

“I think my progress is going okay,” she says earnestly, giving a true assessment of her development. “I’m definitely evolving as an MMA fighter more and more and I feel that in every fight, I’m better and better.

“There were two fights that I lost to girls who were ranked, and those fights were probably too soon for me. Now I think it’s good that I’m going step-by-step moving up.

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“This fight, I’m facing Andrea Lee, who is No. 11 in the rankings, and I hope I win this fight so that I can keep going up in the rankings,” continues Shevchenko, who enters the contest situated one place behind the LFA and Invicta FC alum in the flyweight Top 15. “If I win, I move up, and if I don’t win, I stay where I am or I move down, and I don’t want that.

“I train to move up,” she adds. “I gained this experience with Valentina to move up in the rankings.”

There doesn’t seem to be any real sibling rivalry between the Shevchenko sisters; they push each other, for sure, but it’s not a constant battle to determine who is the best at everything the way some brothers and sisters get on.

Part of that, Antonina admits, is because competing with her younger sister in their chosen professional pursuit is a pretty daunting task.

“To be competitive with her in martial arts is very hard,” she says with a laugh. “It’s hard to be competitive with a UFC champion. I do my best in fighting to be able to come close to her level, but I think healthy competition is always good.

Antonina Shevchenko of Kyrgyzstan (top) punches Ariane Lipski of Brazil in their women's flyweight bout during the UFC 255 event at UFC APEX on November 21, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Cruising to victory vs Lipski, November 21, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

“We push one another, but she’s my little sister, so if she wins, I’m not very sad about this.”

More than wanting to one-up her sister, Antonina wants to emulate Valentina, recognizing how skilled, focused, and driven she is in the gym, and understanding that trying to match her little sister’s approach is a great way to continue leveling up her own skills.

“Every training session we have together I see her working,” Antonina begins. “It’s such beautiful technique and it gives me motivation to move like her, to throw like her, to punch like her. She’s a focused fighter and she always does what she has to do; she doesn’t leave until it is all done.

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“For me, watching this, it brings motivation for me to work harder and harder and do the same because if you do it now during training, you have success in your fight.”

Beyond being proud of her little sister’s accomplishments and wanting to experience something similar for herself, it’s clear that being on this journey together means a great deal to Antonina.

The victories are great, and celebrated as they should be, just as the weight of the setbacks are shouldered by both sisters and Fedotov jointly, but more than anything, it’s the hours in the gym, the venturing to different outposts, experiencing different cities, different countries, and turning their lifelong dream into the day-to-day life they lead that means the most to the elder Shevchenko.

“It means a lot to me because we’ve been doing this and trying to do this all our life.”