LAS VEGAS — It’s Dec. 28, 2020, and UFC flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko is invited to a Roaring ’20s-themed party to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Kyrgyzstan.
“I’m like, oh my god, it’s three days before the New Year and I don’t have a dress,” Shevchenko recalled to ESPN two weeks before her title defense against Taila Santos at UFC 275 (Saturday, 10 p.m. on ESPN+ PPV).
Much like Cinderella’s fairy godmother, Aysalkyn Ismailova met Shevchenko at the last minute to take her measurements. She told Shevchenko she would get the dress done even if she didn’t sleep. The next day she presented the champion with a beautiful dress for the party.
“The best thing about being at home in Kyrgyzstan is that there’s so many talented people around you,” Shevchenko said. “It’s about real desire and love for your work. They want to be the best at their jobs and create happiness for their customers.”
Shevchenko made it to the ball by midnight, just like in the fairy tale, but her story is more like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde — or rather she’s both the Beauty and the Beast. Her upbringing in Kyrgyzstan and lifelong dedication to martial arts has provided her a unique lifestyle that offers a wide spectrum of combat and celebrity.
“In my normal life, I can be soft, but I will not let someone dictate what I do. I do what I want to do, I think that’s my beast side,” Shevchenko said with a laugh. “I don’t go around and scream at people, because martial arts teaches me that you have to be respectful. But you have to control everything, no matter what the situation is. You have to think about what you are doing because everything has consequences.”
Her meticulous nature is apparent as Shevchenko organizes her team by height for a photo after morning practice, telling each member of her training camp exactly where to stand or kneel for the right shot. But when she’s not in training camp leading up to a fight, she explains, her demeanor is much different.
“In my life there’s two sides,” said Shevchenko. “I would say martial arts are my No. 1, but I love to travel, the outdoors, and I love to have these glamour photo shoots where I can express myself. Once I’m in fight camp, though, I have to turn to a different mode.”
Having activities outside of fighting helps her unwind, but while preparing for a fight, Shevchenko likes to stay 100% focused on her opponent and her performance inside the Octagon. While she loves to look beautiful and dress up, she keeps that for after she wins the fight and her mission is done.
“Once I’m there, the camera is on and you have the outfit and the right atmosphere, it’s kind of like transforming. It feels good. I really enjoy the process,” she said.
Shevchenko was able to combine both sides of her personality last year through her film debut in “Bruised” on Netflix. Playing a role that mimics her own life, Shevchenko portrayed a fighter named Lady Killer opposite Halle Berry. She said she thinks that her tougher side can still display her elegance outside of the cage.
“It’s different. All women are beautiful in a fight because it is the beauty of the trained body,” she said. “How you can control your body, how you can strike, your eyes concentrating on your target. You want to win the fight. It’s very dangerous. It’s powerful, this confidence.”
But once the fight is over, the mindset is switched and the dancing begins.
“It’s already inside me, so it’s natural, it just matters what mode I turn on,” Shevchenko said. “It’s all together — this beauty and beast.”