Alexa Grasso and Valentina Shevchenko have tall orders ahead of them before they can address the difficult challenges that lie beyond Noche UFC this Saturday.
— UFC (@ufc) September 11, 2023
One could argue that the first fight against Valentina Shevchenko for Alexa Grasso was about the pressure put on herself. The rematch is about the pressure from everyone else. Grasso rallied back to win the title in March in what was a seminal moment, ending the run of the dominant Shevchenko to complete what has been a tumultuous journey to the belt. Despite the setbacks and triumphs and everything in between, most discounted Grasso that night and felt it would be a foregone conclusion that the champion would retain her belt. As such, the moment was a proverbial Cinderella story for her to become the first female champion from Mexico and to join two of her countrymen as UFC titleholders.
The rematch is against a different backdrop. Grasso is now the last remaining Mexican champion and has the pressure of headlining the card specifically built for Mexican Independence Day. Secondly, there is perhaps a more daunting mountain than when she was a contender. While her sole focus was the champion earlier this year, she now has a pair of threats looming in Erin Blanchfield and Manon Fiorot who threaten to make this a difficult title run just as soon as it has begun. But for the prospect who competed the journey to champion behind victories over Maycee Barber, Viviane Araujo, and Joanne Wood, one can never count out her skills against any opponent.
— UFC (@ufc) September 11, 2023
Where is Valentina Shevchenko at this stage of her career? We may not even know on Saturday. Dominant for years, “The Bullet” was in control once again in March before Grasso capitalized on a tactical error and secured the submission. Should she win the rematch on Saturday, it would be easy to say that the setback was more a blip on the radar. But a second loss, after facing adversity last year as well, would certainly create the narrative that Shevchenko may finally be slowing down after once standing head and shoulders above the rest of the competition. Despite it being the nature of sports, it would be a difficult reality to witness after having become accustomed to arguably the most technically brilliant woman the sport has ever seen.
It should be noted that Shevchenko is still poised to gain her status right back. The respect for her amongst her peers remains high and her body of work has awarded her the honor of being the cover athlete of the upcoming UFC video game. Should she regain her title, it would only add to a resume that has seen her best the likes of Joanna Jędrzejczyk, Holly Holm, Taila Santos, and Julianna Peña. Like Grasso, Blanchfield and Fiorot on the horizon threaten to give her plenty to do atop the division if she returns to the summit. And if she were to come up short, there remain plenty of former or new foes waiting to use her to elevate their own standing in the division.
[ 10pmET / 7pmPT main card | Live on ESPN+ ] pic.twitter.com/MnfwGr6DRG
— UFC (@ufc) September 15, 2023
Regardless of who wins, it’s easy to expect that the UFC will go with either Blanchfield or Fiorot as the next option. While Blanchfield obviously rides more hype and is coming off a victory over a top-ranked contender in the division, Fiorot arguably has the more accomplished resume on her side with the longer win-streak. Another scenario that can’t be dismissed, however, is Shevchenko regaining the title and setting up an immediate rubber match with Grasso. In that scenario, it’s very possible the promotion would schedule Blanchfield against Fiorot for the same night as Grasso and Shevchenko complete their saga.