When the Kyrgyzstan-born MMA fighter Valentina "Bullet" Shevchenko visits her native country, family and friends can’t wait for her to prepare a dish that’s a little uncommon in that central Asian land, Chupe de Pescado, a fish soup that's a typical dish in Peru.
“They love it in Kyrgyzstan,” she told Fox News Latino in a Spanish-language interview. “They always ask for more.”
Shevchenko (10-1) faces off against former UFC women's bantamweight champion Holly Holm (12-2) in the main event of UFC on Fox 20 on Saturday night at the United Center in Chicago.
Born in Bishkek, Shevchenko moved to Peru in 2008, and the South American nation has adopted the nine-time IFMA Muay Thai champion. So much so that she walks to the octagon carrying the South American country’s flag.
“When we would travel, fighting all over the world, we visited Peru,” Shevchenko told Fox News Latino. "When my team saw that Peruvians were interested in learning Muay Thai, we started to teach classes and seminars. We decided to stay and live in Peru. It's a beautiful country because it has wonderful scenery, ocean, nature and everything that is great for training.”
She says Peruvians have evolved as martial artists since the time she has been in the country.
Shevchenko, who made her UFC debut last year, does some of her training in Thailand and Texas, but most of the time she works out at several gyms including the Snipers Academy in the Miraflores section of Lima. She hones her skills with her sister, Antonina Shevchenko, a Muay Thai champion for Lion Fight Promotions, and she partakes of traditional Peruvian cooking.
“I love Peruvian seafood,” she said. “When we visit Kyrgyzstan, we prepare chicharrón de calamares (fried calamari), and we invite our friends, and, of course, we eat ceviche” – the raw cocktail in which fish is "cooked" by acidic citrus marinades.
Shevchenko feels Peruvian and speaks Spanish well. She didn’t take classes, instead she learned the language by speaking to her friends.
She started practicing martial arts at age 5 thanks to her mother, Elena Shevchenko, a martial arts expert herself. Elena, who holds a high rank belt in Taekwondo, is the current president of the Muay Thai federation in Kyrgyzstan.
However, there is at least one bad association for her having to do with Peruvian cuisine.
Last month, her coach, Pavel Fedotov, was shot in a shootout with robbers at a restaurant. She was just a few feet away from him.
“Pavel was not only acting in self-defense, but also the defense of my life and also of the people who were by my side,” she wrote in a Facebook post.
Shevchenko said he is recovering and is expected to be by her side come fight night.
“He is better,” she said. "He is recuperating. It is important for me to have him next to me and guide me. I was worried. I am happy that he is getting out of this. I hope he will be next to me July 23.”
As for the fight, Holm and Shevchenko should put on a good show.
“This is an interesting fight because she is a boxing champion, and I have been a Muay Thai champion. I think this is a good fight not just for MMA fighters, but for anyone interested in fighting ... I will use everything I have learned.”
The winner could get the opportunity to meet the newly-crowned bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes, who defeated Shevchenko in a unanimous decision in March.
On Saturday, she knows that two countries more than 9,000 miles away will cheer her on.
“I am happy that I have the support of both,” she said.