Kicking off UFC 196’s main card is a women’s bantamweight match-up between #4 ranked Amanda “The Lioness” Nunes and #10 ranked Valentina “Bullet” Shevchenko. Nunes has won four out of her five UFC fights and is on the verge of earning a title shot in the bantamweight division. Shevchenko, meanwhile, earned a decision win over Sarah Kaufman in her UFC debut in December. Amanda Nunes (11-4 MMA, 4-1 UFC, -125 favorite) The heavy-handed Brazilian has been quite impressive in her first five UFC fights. She has compiled a 4-1 record in those fights, with all four wins coming via first round stoppage. In fact, Nunes has scored a finish in all of her career wins, including nine in the first round. Her sole blemish in the UFC was a technical knockout loss to former title challenger Cat Zingano in a fight that she was dominating early. A win over top prospect Shevchenko will continue to advance her toward a title shot. The 27-year old Brazilian is likely the hardest hitting fighter in the women’s bantamweight division. While she is by no means as technical as someone like Holly Holm or Shevchenko, her raw power makes her a very dangerous match-up for anyone in the division. The American Top Team member fires hard straight and overhand rights, left hooks, and thudding leg and body kicks. Strong footwork and circular movement increase her effectiveness. Further, Nunes is one of the few fighters in the division that are effective both going forward and on the counter. While she is known as a devastating striker, Nunes also possesses strong clinch takedowns. From top position she unleashes brutal ground and pound and does tremendous damage from dominant positions. However, Nunes offers little offense from her back and tends to fade badly after the first round. In fact, the Brazilian has never won a fight that has gone past the second round. Fighters that have been able to survive the first round have historically done very well against Nunes. Valentina Shevchenko (12-1 MMA, 1-0 UFC, +105 underdog) Striking specialist Shevchenko made her UFC debut in December against veteran Sarah Kaufman on approximately eight days’ notice. The Russian won a hard-fought split decision against the former Strikeforce champion. With a lack of up-and-coming prospects in the women’s bantamweight division, Shevchenko will find herself in an envious position if she can knock off veteran slugger Amanda Nunes on Saturday night. Shevchenko is one of the most accomplished female strikers that has ever stepped foot inside the Octagon, as she has held numerous world championships in Muay Thai and kickboxing. Actually, she has thrice defeated current UFC Strawweight Champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk in Muay Thai contests. The southpaw, though a tad undersized for the division, is extremely quick and accurate with her strikes. Shevchenko prefers to strike from range, where she has a dangerous arsenal of kicks. When her opponent charges at her, the Russian is adept at countering with hard right hooks. Further, Shevchenko is very good in the clinch, where she has sneaky knees, elbows, and takedowns. Her willingness to initiate grappling exchanges in her UFC debut caught many by surprise, as she was primarily viewed as a striker. While she is not shy about going to the canvas, Shevchenko is still developing her ground game. From top position she mainly look to maintain position and land infrequent ground strikes. Passing and submissions are not yet part of her game. Thoughts The winner of this matchup will undoubtedly find themselves in a good position in the women’s bantamweight division. While Ronda Rousey will likely get the next crack at the winner of the Holly Holm versus Miesha Tate fight, the winner of this matchup may find themselves only one fight away from earning a shot at the title. As far as the matchup is concerned, Nunes is an extremely dangerous fighter in the first round. However, her tendency to tire has been a big problem. Shevchenko, while not as powerful as Nunes, will be hold a technique advantage on the feet and in the clinch, and will also have the superior conditioning. I think Shevchenko survives a tough first round to outpoint Nunes in an excellent, back-and-forth fight. The Prediction: Valentina Shevchenko defeats Amanda Nunes via unanimous decision.