DENVER — Valentina Shevchenko not only secured her spot as the top contender in the UFC women’s bantamweight division, but she also might have given the champion a little extra to think about in the process.
Shevchenko, known as one of the better strikers in the division, submitted ground specialist Julianna Pena with an armbar in the second round of the main event of UFC on Fox 23 on Saturday at the Pepsi Center.
“Many people asked me going into this fight about how I’m a striker and Julianna is a grappler and how we match up,” Shevchenko said. “Every time I said, ‘Yes, I’m a striker, but I’m an MMA fighter, and I’m a complete fighter.”
Pena spent almost the entire first round pressing Shevchenko against the cage, but got swept to the mat twice as she was unable to secure a takedown. Pena finally got her takedown in the second round and was having success before Shevchenko pulled off a slick armbar from her back.
In the process, Shevchenko almost certainly clinched the next shot at champion Amanda Nunes.
Nunes, who defeated Shevchenko in March 2016 before winning the belt in July, entered the cage after the fight, and the fighters exchanged barbs. Shevchenko almost stole the first matchup, as Nunes wore down late. Her improving submission skills give her one more tool for the rematch.
“Be careful with your words, because they will come back to you,” Shevchenko said.
The win moved Shevchenko, a former Muay Thai world champion, to 3-1 in the UFC. She has won seven of eight overall, including a victory over former champ Holly Holm in July.
Hometown favorite Donald Cerrone had his four-fight winning streak snapped when he was knocked out by Jorge Masvidal in the second round of a welterweight bout.
Masvidal dropped Cerrone with a right hand at the end of the first round and delivered several big shots only to have Cerrone saved by the bell.
It was clear the damage had been done.
Masvidal knocked down Cerrone again early in the second and landed punches to the head and body as Cerrone got back to his feet until referee Herb Dean stopped the action.
“Cowboy is a great fighter,” Masvidal said. “He didn’t have to come out in the second round, and he did. He’s a man, and he has all my respect.”
Cerrone had not lost since moving up to the welterweight division after falling short in a bid for the lightweight title in December 2015.
It was the third straight win for Masvidal after he suffered back-to-back losses by split decision. He insists the setbacks are behind him and he is ready to make a title run.
“This journey is easy money,” he said. “Where I come from, this is easy. I come from a place where people just drive right through, they don’t want to hang out there. I come from very humble beginnings, so this journey is easy money for me.”
Rising heavyweight star Francis Ngannou continued his rapid ascent with a devastating knockout of former champion Andrei Arlovski.
It was the ninth consecutive win for Ngannou, including five straight since joining the UFC. He has finished all five of those fights, including the past three in the first round.
“It is my conviction,” he said of what has fueled his success. “I think too much, and then I work for that result. I know I can impact the striking. I am very happy. I started MMA just three years ago. I’ve been dreaming of something like this for a long time, and in my mind, I’ve been ready for this since before I ever started.”
Ngannou said he is ready for a top contender in the division, specifically mentioning Junior dos Santos and Alistair Overeem.
Featherweight Jason Knight opened the main card with a second-round submission of Alex Caceres for his third straight win.
After a back-and-forth first round, Knight took control in the second and eventually locked in a rear-naked choke.
Middleweight Sam Alvey won a unanimous decision over Nate Marquardt on the preliminary card, and Raphael Assuncao took a split decision over bantamweight Aljamain Sterling.
Li Jingliang and Marcos Rogerio de Lima recorded knockout victories. Eric Spicely and Jason Gonzalez picked up submission wins.
Jordan Johnson and Alexandre Pantoja each won by decision.
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UFC ON FOX 23 MAIN CARD
* Valentina Shevchenko def. Julianna Pena, submission (armbar), Round 2 (4:29), women’s bantamweights
* Jorge Masvidal def. Donald Cerrone, knockout, Round 2 (1:00), welterweights
* Francis Ngannou def. Andrei Arlovski, knockout, Round 1 (1:32), heavyweights
* Jason Knight def. Alex Caceres, submission (rear-naked choke), Round 2 (4:21), featherweights