Randa Markos wants to break into the top five. Alexa Grasso wants to make her mark in the division. Who will prevail at UFC Mexico City?
The co-main event of UFC Mexico City between Randa Markos and Alexa Grasso will thrust the winner into the rankings in the stacked strawweight division. Markos is the more experienced of the two, but Grasso will be the one with the home field advantage. Both women need a victory to stake their claim to the rankings and a loss could knock them far out of talks about being an elite contender.
For Markos, the fight comes after she notched a big upset over former champion Carla Esparza in February. The win was huge considering Markos has alternated wins and losses for the entirety of her UFC career. On one hand, her victory seemed to speak more to the sheer competitiveness of the strawweight division rather than a severe deficit in her game. On the other, she still has plenty of work to do if she’d like to reach the elite level.
The top five at 115-pounds is an absolute shark tank of talent. Outside of champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk, the murderer’s row of Claudia Gadelha, Jessica Andrade, Rose Namajunas, and Karolina Kowalkiewicz are a tough group to break through if you want UFC gold. That’s not taking into account the other fringe contenders in the division are also jockeying for position in the rankings.
Markos has shared the cage with the division’s elite to mixed results. Her victory over Esparza stands out, but so does her 2015 loss to Kowalkiewicz. If she’s to move forward to become a legitimate threat at the elite level, then a victory on Saturday is paramount.
Alexa Grasso has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the sale of the UFC, never more evident than when the promotion landed in Houston earlier this year. Grasso, still unranked, faced Felice Herrig in the co-main event on FOX Sports 1. That same night, elite contender Jessica Andrade faced former Invicta FC champion Angela Hill in a title eliminator that was relegated to the opening of the main card.
The UFC is making a concentrated push to build crossover stars to reimburse the $4.2 billion sale last year. Grasso is one such prospect. Tenacious and well-spoken, Grasso has a wholesome appeal that the UFC is hoping they can tap into as she makes her way up the ranks. Like Yair Rodriguez, she is also a native Mexican. As the UFC looks to expand into the Mexico market, they hope to have a marketable young star who can deliver phenomenal ratings to help build a presence in the country.
Grasso is 9-1 in her career, having gone a perfect 4-0 in Invicta FC before making the move to the UFC. She had a successful Octagon debut against Heather Jo Clark but lost convincingly to the resurgent Herrig in her last outing. In order to capitalize on the promotional efforts of the UFC, she will need to deliver against Markos.
That said, the pressure is much higher on Grasso than it is on Markos. Yair Rodriguez is a dynamic young fighter who has proven himself with several stellar performances and his loss to Frankie Edgar was just seen as too much too soon for the young prospect. If Grasso loses, she would fall to 1-2 and be fighting for her UFC future rather than turning into the face of women’s MMA in Mexico.
It should be noted, Grasso missing weight for the bout does not bode well to build her case for credibility in the division. A victory gives her a chance to redeem herself, while a loss will make it appear that she is not yet prepared for the attention of the UFC at just 23 years old.
Stylistically, Grasso is a more fluid striker than several of Markos’ past opponents. Conversely, Markos is more comfortable on the ground has a perfect record of taking down her opponents in the UFC. Grasso should look to get in and out with her footwork, keeping Markos from getting a rhythm going. The key will be maintaining her defense for all three rounds and giving Markos as few opportunities as possible to take the fish to the mat.
For Markos, the strategy is the opposite. She should look to crowd Grasso and get in her face early. Making it an ugly fight will keep Grasso from getting into a rhythm and finding her range. Also, it will create opportunities for her to change levels and get the fight to the mat if she can frustrate Grasso on the feet. On the ground, she should look to maintain top position with strikes rather than risk losing it trying to force an early submission. The longer she can wear down Grasso, the more she will force her opponent into making a mistake to make up the deficit.
Both women are going into the fight knowing that they can change the perception of their UFC career with a victory. Grasso has the benefit of the crowd behind her, but Markos is the more experienced fighter who is less likely to be phased by the attention of being in the co-main event. All of that makes for what should be an exciting contest on Saturday.