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Valentina Shevchenko, Jorge Masvidal impress with stoppages at UFC on Fox 23 in Denver

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 28: Valentina Shevchenko of

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 28: Valentina Shevchenko of Kyrgyzstan celebrates her win over Julianna Penna in the women's Bantamweight division during the UFC Fight Night at the Pepsi Center on January 28, 2017 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) Credit: Getty Images / Matthew Stockman

DENVER — Valentina Shevchenko stopped Julianna Pena with an armbar late in the second round Saturday night, establishing herself as the top contender for the UFC bantamweight title.

Welterweight Jorge Masvidal also stopped Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone with strikes early in the second round of their fight at a UFC show in Denver.

Shevchenko (14-2) likely earned a rematch with 135-pound champion Amanda Nunes by beating Pena (10-2), who appeared to win a competitive first round with a few extra strikes.

Shevchenko dramatically ended the fight a few minutes later with an armbar, once the submission move of choice for Ronda Rousey.

Rousey, the formerly dominant bantamweight champion, lost to Nunes in Las Vegas last month. Nunes attended Shevchenko’s victory over Pena, and the champion stepped into the cage afterward to trade barbs with Shevchenko.

“I was working very hard,” Shevchenko said. “I was focused only on this fight. I’m pretty sure the next fight will be a title shot, and I’m very excited to take (Nunes’) belt.”

Nunes beat Shevchenko by unanimous decision last March at UFC 196, but a rematch seems likely. It was only the second loss in the mixed martial arts career of Shevchenko, a Kyrgyzstan-born fighter who lives in Peru and moves her training camp before each fight.

Pena had won four straight bouts since joining the UFC in 2013.

Masvidal (32-11) pulled an upset with his persuasive victory over hometown favorite Cerrone (32-8), who had lost only once in his previous 13 bouts since August 2013.

Masvidal, who was 3-3 in his last six fights, brutalized Cerrone in the first round and nearly ended it shortly before the bell. He increased his onslaught in the second round, forcing referee Herb Dean to stop it 60 seconds in.

“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. He has all my respect.”

Earlier at the Pepsi Center, heavyweight Francis Ngannou (10-1) stopped veteran Andrei Arlovski with punches just 92 seconds into the first round. The Cameroon-born Frenchman was dominant in his third straight first-round stoppage, putting him near the front of the line for a shot at UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic.


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