O’Neill (9-0) had an incredible rookie year, going 3-0 with three stoppages, and technically capped it off with a win over MMA pioneer Roxanne Modafferi that got her a No. 12 ranking.
With the 24-year-old flyweight making such an impact in her first year with the company, people believe she can challenge for the title within a few years.
At UFC 275, title challenger Taila Santos gave the champion Shevchenko all she could handle. Many analysts and fighters believe the Brazilian did enough to win; however, in the end, the judges thought differently.
O’Neill believes Santos won the strap that night.
“Watching it live, like going into the fifth round, I was like Valentina is losing this fight, she needs to finish, or she’s gonna lose her belt if she doesn’t. And then I was very, very shocked when I heard the scorecards come back that she won the fight, especially 49-46. I think I even tweeted something like, that’s crazy; that guy should lose his job. I still stand by that; that guy should lose his job because it’s people’s livelihood,” O’Neill told The AllStar. “I’ve watched the fight back since, and I can see it going either way. I’m not too mad that Valentina got it. But I definitely think, in my opinion, that Taila won.”
‘King’ Casey says Santos exploited holes in the long-time champion’s game.
“I think that Taila just exposed a lot of holes that Valentina still had. I think that MMA is ever-growing, ever-changing, and ever-developing; you’ve got to change your game; you can’t stay on top forever having the same game plan,” O’Neill said. “She just exposed some things that Valentina needs to work on again, and I’m sure that Valentina will. I’m sure that the next time we see Valentina, it won’t be as easy to do to her what was just done, but I think she put out a blueprint of- if you’re going to beat Valentina, this is the way to go.”
“So, I’d love to see her get a rematch. I know that they probably won’t go with that. But I think that she did good, and I think she should hold her head high because a lot of people said she didn’t deserve to be in there with Valentina, and she gave Valentina her hardest challenge ever. So it just proves that it can be done and anybody can be beaten.”
With Santos being out for a while with a broken orbital bone, Shevchenko might have her next opponent, former bantamweight champion Miesha Tate. That is if Tate gets by Lauren Murphy at UFC Long Island.
Tate is O’Neill’s teammate at Xtreme Couture, and she believes Tate would give the champion a very close fight.
“I think it’ll be super close on the line. But I also believe that it’ll be a super close fight when it actually does happen. I’ve trained with Miesha for two years now, and she’s one of the most dominant female grapplers I’ve ever trained with,” O’Neill said. “If she gets on top of you, it’s not going to be like the Taila Santos thing. I think that if Miesha gets on top of Valentina, it will be very hard for Valentina to get up….I think it would be a great fight with her and Miesha, and I think people would get really excited about that, considering who Meisha Tate is. And I would definitely be rooting for Miesha on that fight. I love Miesha, and I hope that she gets a chance at another belt.”