SPORTS

Title shot at stake in Valentina Shevchenko-Julianna Pena bout at UFC Denver

DENVER — This weekend’s five-round fight between bantamweight contenders Valentina Shevchenko and Julianna Pena likely won’t receive as much attention as several other women’s matchups — although one can certainly make the case it should.

The 135-pound contest has been pegged to headline Saturday’s UFC Fight Night card inside Pepsi Center, but as far as media coverage, it obviously falls short of last month’s championship fight between Amanda Nunes and Ronda Rousey.

And next month’s inaugural featherweight title fight between Holly Holm and Germaine de Randamie at UFC 208 likely will overshadow Saturday’s main event.

Shevchenko (13-2) and Pena (8-2) have each responded to the situation in their own way. Pena has promised to “raise hell” if the UFC doesn’t award her a title shot after this bout. Shevchenko has responded by congratulating Holm on her title fight, even though she soundly beat Holm when they fought in July.

“That’s a new division and I’m happy for Holly,” Shevchenko said. “She gets a shot to fight for the title. That’s great. I don’t really care about that because it’s at 145 pounds. That’s not my weight category. My weight category is 135 or 125 pounds. That’s what I really care about.”

Overlooked or not, this matchup figures to go a long way in sorting out the future of both the UFC’s bantamweight and featherweight divisions.

Pena, 27, has torn through the division ever since winning “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series in 2013. She is coming off a gritty, convincing performance against former title challenger Cat Zingano at UFC 200 in July. Shevchenko is 2-1 in the UFC, with her lone loss coming to current champion Nunes last March. Shevchenko rallied impressively in the final frame of that three-round bout, which suggests a five-round fight against Nunes could play to her advantage.

“In general, I think a second fight against Nunes would be totally different,” said Shevchenko, a former professional kickboxer. “But of course, for me, I like to fight longer fights. In five rounds, a fighter can truly show all of her best techniques.”

The UFC originally tried to book Saturday’s fight on its blockbuster UFC 205 event on Nov. 12 at Madison Square Garden, but Pena turned it down in order to wait for a potential title shot. When Rousey returned from a yearlong layoff and was booked an immediate shot against Nunes, Pena agreed to face Shevchenko.

Ahead of this main event, Pena moved from her longtime home in Spokane, Washington, to Chicago, but she has maintained head coach Rick Little.

Nunes (14-4) has recently expressed interest on social media in facing the winner of the inaugural 145-pound title fight on Feb. 11. If that scenario were to unfold, Nunes would be vying to become the first female to win titles in multiple weight classes in the UFC.

Of course, that also means the winner of this weekend’s fight would be denied a title shot for the time being. Pena, for one, intends to address that possibility on Saturday.

“The biggest thing I can do as a fighter is get my hand raised,” Pena said. “We’ll cross that road of what Nunes said when we get there. Let’s just say I have a lot to say on the matter, but I’ll save it for after the fight.”