JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. -- –
Three Airmen took deep breaths as they approached a blue mat where a 5-foot 5-inch, 135-pound blonde woman was beginning her warm-up exercises.
Valentina “the Bullet” Shevchenko, the number two ranked female Bantamweight Ultimate Fighting Championship athlete in the world, waved her hand motioning for them to join her for mixed martial arts training at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia.
Shevchenko was invited to the installation as part of a morale tour. For Shevchenko, seeing the day-to-day lives of service members was more than a meet-and-greet event; it was an eye-opening experience that showed her how warfighters and UFC fighters relate.
“It’s a great opportunity that not everyone gets,” the 28-year-old fighter from Kyrgyzstan said after visiting JBLE. “I wanted to be here. I didn’t think too much about going or not … I spoke with my coach Pavel and we decided, ‘of course we will come.’”
Prior to accepting the invitation, Shevchenko had also just signed a contract for a fight with championship implications. Stuck with the decision to train or visit the military members, she decided to do both.
To accommodate the fighter’s training regimen the installation provided Shevchenko with combative-experienced service members to grapple, spar and wrestle.
“To be able to spar and train with her is an honor,” said U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Ramon Crespo, 633rd Security Forces Squadron entry control point monitor. “Me being a fan of UFC, this is huge for me.”
After a 30-minute warm up and an hour of taking and dodging hits at her first training session, she wiped the sweat from her face to reveal a smile, extended her hand and thanked her sparring partners.
“It was exactly what I needed at this time of my preparation,” said Shevchenko. “All the positive energy and training I received is inside me and gives me power for the fight.”
After one round of training with Shevchenko, Crespo saw a commonality in himself and the fighter, who has 23 years of martial arts experience.
“She lets you know that she is the best in the world just with her strength and her strikes -- it’s a wake-up call really,” said Crespo. “She’s definitely someone to look up to, and someone who shows all the values we uphold as Airmen. As we pride ourselves in being Airmen, she prides herself in being a fighter.”
Shevchenko also said she found parallels shared by the military and UFC through not just sparring or grappling, but seeing firsthand how the military operates.
“To see the lives of service members from the inside is a great experience for all of us visiting,” said Shevchenko. “I think we have something in common. My life isn’t like normal people’s and the military life isn’t like normal people’s -- it’s a lot of discipline all the time.”
Before departing the installation, the fighter with 13 wins said she is confident the training and positivity she shared with Airmen and Soldiers will carry her to a win in her next fight, Jan. 28, 2017.