UFC 285: Shevchenko Looks to Reaffirm Skills Against Matured Grasso

Valentina Shevchenko and Alexa Grasso, UFC 285
Valentina Shevchenko and Alexa Grasso, UFC 285 press conference Credit: Gabriel Gonzalez/Cageside Press

Coming off her most difficult fight as a flyweight, Valentina Shevchenko looks to reassert her dominance when she takes on the now seasoned Alexa Grasso who looks to add to a seminal year in MMA for Mexico at UFC 285.

To be as dominant as Valentina Shevchenko means that, like most great champions, she is often judged against her own high standards.  “Bullet” has defended the UFC flyweight title seven times and is widely considered to be the most technically skilled all-around fighters (male or female) in the world today.  In such performances such as those against current Bellator champion Liz Carmouche, Jessica Andrade, and Lauren Murphy, she looked nearly unstoppable as she fought at seemingly a higher gear than the tough veterans she was matched up against.

But Saturday will be viewed in different lens after the way her previous fight played out.  In her last title defense in June, Shevchenko found herself struggling with the grappling of challenger Taila Santos who had full momentum before a shot from the champion led to a swelling around her eye that hampered her vision.  Though no infraction of the rules occurred, Shevchenko’s rally to take the decision still saw criticism that a stroke of luck as much as her skills helped her prevail on the night.  Now, new contenders are eager to see if their wrestling could lead to an upset of one of the most dominant women ever to step into the cage.  For Shevchenko, that means there is more onus on delivering a show-stopping performance that reasserts the air of invincibility she has long enjoyed.

Once praised as having the potential to be “the Ronda Rousey of Mexico,” Alexa Grasso is the latest to illustrate that progress for an athlete is rarely a straight line upward.  Training out of Logo Gym in Guadalajara under the tutelage of her uncle, Grasso was considered one of the top prospects in the sport when she entered the UFC as a fresh faced 23 year-old who had already been performing well under the Invicta banner for two years and had a perfect 9-0 record.  Her early career inside the Octagon would see her go through the growing pains of a young fighter as she alternated wins and losses in her first six UFC bouts.  It should be noted, two of her stumbles at the time came against former (and future) champion Carla Esparza and surging contender Tatiana Suarez.

2020 saw Grasso turn the proverbial corner as she made the move up to the flyweight division after maturing physically over the past several years.  The move saw her put together victories over the likes of Ji Yeon Kim, Maycee Barber, and Joanne Wood.  In her most recent bout last October, Grasso headlined her first UFC card and bested another surging contender in Viviane Araujo in a five round contest.  Now 29 years-old, Grasso finds herself in her first UFC title fight at a crucial time for the promotion.  In the past two months, the promotion has crowned two title holders from Mexico (Brandon Moreno and Yair Rodriguez) at a time when the company is making continued efforts to develop the brand in the country.  To be the third title holder from Mexico in as many months would add even more value to what would already be a seminal moment in her career.

Given Shevchenko’s status as a longtime champion, it would be difficult not to see an immediate rematch take place should Grasso pull off the upset.  In any event, contenders such as Manon Fiorot or Erin Blanchfield stand out as the most likely options for the winner in their next outing.