EDMONTON, Alberta — Brazilian brawler Amanda Nunes played a tactical game Saturday night to beat challenger Valentina Shevchenko by split decision and retain her bantamweight title at UFC 215.
“I wanted to show the world I’m here to stay,” Nunes said.
The judges scored it 47-48, 48-47, 48-47 to run Nunes’ record to 15-4.
It was a careful fight with few extended skirmishes until Nunes took Shevchenko to the canvas in the fifth round. The fans often booed and chanted “Fight, fight, fight!”
Nunes, nicknamed the Lioness, raised her arms as the decision was announced while many of the fans booed the verdict.
She later told reporters her strategy was to go the full five rounds to wear Shevchenko down and then strike — and hush detractors who said Nunes was an early-round knockout artist and would fade in the long game.
“I know the crowd wants to see a knockout … but tonight, this fight was for me, to go five rounds and prove I’m the best. I’m here to stay. I’m here for a reason,” she said.
Shevchenko, a Kyrgyzstan fighter nicknamed ‘Bullet,’ is 14-3.
The 29-year-old walked to the side of the octagon, shaking her head in disbelief.
“I don’t agree with the decision at all,” Shevchenko said afterward, adding: “I won this fight.”
She said she believed she won three rounds, and while Nunes took her down in the fifth, “I was landing more punches from being on the ground (than Nunes from above).”
It was the second time Nunes had beaten Shevchenko in 18 months. The 29-year-old Nunez took a unanimous decision over Shevchenko at UFC 196 in March 2016.
The two were set to fight in July at UFC 213, but Nunes pulled out the day of the fight with sinus issues.
Nunes has smashed her way to the top of her class over the past 14 months. She bloodied and submitted Miesha Tate in July 2016 to take the belt, and then defended it successfully in December with a 48-second dismantling of star Ronda Rousey.
Also on the main card, in a bout with a potential title shot on the line, former lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos submitted sixth-ranked Neil Magny with an arm-triangle choke at 3:43 of the first round of their welterweight battle. The 10th-ranked Brazilian is now 27-9-0.
No. 2-ranked flyweight Henry “The Messenger” Cejudo, looking for another title shot against Demetrious Johnson, nailed Wilson Reis of Brazil square in the jaw, dropping him to the mat, then pounded him into a knockout 25 seconds into the second round.
Swedish veteran Ilir Latifi lived up to his Sledgehammer nickname, lifting up and pile-driving Australian upstart Tyson Pedro head first to the mat in a light heavyweight tilt. Latifi won by unanimous decision.
Gilbert Melendez, dropping down to make his debut in featherweight, was cheered as he staggered up repeatedly from the canvas while taking a hellacious flurry of kicks and punches from eighth-ranked Jeremy Stephens. Stephens won by unanimous decision.