Nunes defends belt after defeating Shevchenko at UFC 215 in Edmonton

EDMONTON — Brazilian brawler Amanda Nunes played a tactical game Saturday night to defeat challenger Valentina Shevchenko by split decision and retain her bantamweight title, at UFC 215 at Rogers Place.

"I wanted to show the world I’m here to stay," Nunes later told reporters.

The judges scored it 47-48, 48-47, 48-47 to run Nunes’ record to 15-4.

It was a careful fight with many single shots and few extended skirmishes until Nunes took Shevchenko to the canvas in the fifth round.

The fans often booed and chanted "Fight, fight fight!"

Nunes, nicknamed the Lioness, raised her arms in the air as the decision was announced while many of the fans booed the verdict.

She later told reporters her strategy was to go the full five rounds and wear Shevchenko down and then strike — and prove to detractors who said Nunes was an early-round knockout artist and would fade in the long game.

"I know the crowd wants to see a knockout … but tonight this fight was for me, to go five rounds and prove I’m the best. I’m here to stay. I’m here for a reason," she said.

Shevchenko, the Kyrgyzstan fighter nicknamed ‘Bullet,’ is now 14-3.

The 29-year-old walked to the side of the octagon, shaking her head in disbelief.

"I don’t agree with the decision at all," Shevchenko said afterward.

"I won this fight.

"My punches were more effective than her punches."

She said she believed she won three rounds and while Nunes took her down in the fifth, "I was landing more punches from being on the ground (than Nunes from above)."

It was the second time Nunes had beaten Shevchenko in 18 months. Nunes, 29, took a unanimous decision over Shevchenko at UFC 196 in March 2016.

The two were set to fight in July at UFC 213, but Nunes pulled out the day of the fight with sinus issues.

Nunes 29, has smashed her way to the top of her class like a wrecking ball over the past 14 months. She bloodied and submitted Miesha Tate in July 2016 to take the belt, and then defended it successfully in December with a 48-second dismantling of MMA superstar Ronda Rousey.

Also on the main card, in a bout with a potential title shot on the line, former lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos submitted sixth-ranked Neil Magny with an arm-triangle choke at 3:43 of the first round of their welterweight battle. The 10th-ranked Brazilian is now 27-9-0.

No. 2-ranked flyweight Henry (The Messenger) Cejudo, looking for another title shot against Demetrious Johnson, nailed Wilson Reis of Brazil square in the jaw, dropping him to the mat, then ground pounding him into a knockout win 25 seconds into the second round.

Swedish veteran Ilir Latifi lived up to his Sledgehammer nickname, lifting up and pile-driving Australian upstart Tyson Pedro head first to the mat in a light heavyweight tilt. Latifi won by unanimous decision.

Gilbert Melendez, dropping down to make his debut in featherweight, was cheered as he staggered up repeatedly from the canvas while taking a hellacious flurry of kicks and punches from eighth-ranked Jeremy Stephens. Stephens won by unanimous decision.

There were five Canadians on the undercard.

The highlight was Sarah (Cheesecake) Moras of Kelowna, B.C. Pinned to the canvas by California’s Ashlee Evans-Smith in the opening seconds of their bantamweight fight, she worked herself into position to submit Evans-Smith with an armbar at 2:51.

The lone heavyweight contest of the night saw Arjan Bhullar of Richmond, B.C., win his UFC debut with a unanimous decision over Luis Henrique. Bhullar brought the crowd to its feet in the second round, literally putting the 245-pound Brazilian up on his shoulder then slamming him to the canvas.

Vancouver’s Kajan (Ragin’) Johnson knocked out Adriano Martins of Brazil 49 seconds into the third round of their lightweight bout.

Edmonton’s Mitch (Danger Zone) Clarke was TKO’d in the second round by Missouri’s Alex White in a lightweight clash. Afterward, an emotional Clarke, 31, announced he was hanging up the gloves.

In a featherweight fight, Newfoundland’s Gavin Tucker was mercilessly grounded and pounded by Iowa’s Rick (Gladiator) Glenn en route to losing a unanimous decision.

Ketlen Vieira of Brazil, ranked 13th, made a statement by submitting sixth-ranked American Sarah McMann with an arm-triangle choke late in the second round of their bantamweight bout.