Valentina Shevchenko’s title reign has come to an end.
Mantles do not get maintained more dominantly than how Shevchenko has handled the Flyweight division for the last five years. She didn’t finish every opponent, but Shevchenko seldom lost a round en route to her title defense last year against Taila Santos — that’s when the cracks began to show.
Shevchenko did win that fight even if it didn’t seem like she fought her best. After all, Shevchenko repeatedly gave up bad positions going for the headlock throw. It was a tactical error, not necessarily a sign of decline. On its own, that fight shouldn’t have shaken up confidence in “Bullet,” and based on the betting odds ahead of her Alexa Grasso showdown at UFC 285 last night (Sat., March 4, 2023), it didn’t.
There were other factors that should have been considered. For one, Shevchenko is 34 years old. That’s not young for a Flyweight regardless of gender, and Shevchenko has been a combat sports athlete for literally her entire life. Even considering she was winning far more often than not, that’s a lot of wear on the body.
In addition, the division is catching up.
Santos is worlds better than an earlier challenger like Jessica Eye, and Grasso has quite literally grown up inside the Octagon. She grew from Strawweight prospect and Flyweight contender, and she has the benefit of following the target on Shevchenko’s back the whole while.
Shevchenko suffered the champion’s burden last night. Grasso came out as a Southpaw, a look she’s never consistently given before, one that Shevchenko could not have expected. Aggressively attacking the back and rear-naked choke (watch highlights)? That’s also very new form for the Mexican champion. Conversely, Grasso came into the fight totally dialed to take advantage of all of Shevchenko’s favorite habits, the tools that earned and defended her throne.
Really, it’s a credit to Shevchenko’s talent and work ethic that she held the title for this long, and that the new champion was forced to fight tooth-and-nail for her belt. Her reactions and general speed have declined, but she was still able to pull the fight back into her control off the strength of a stiff jab and power takedowns.
Her best was not enough last night.
Grasso capitalized on the moment she’s been building toward her entire career and executed a perfect sequence. Shevchenko loses her crown, and historically, she’s wildly unlikely to get it back. Even if she comes in better prepared to fight a Southpaw and prevent the back take, the statistics do not favor older athletes in rematches.
Shevchenko is a special fighter, so maybe she’ll be able to buck the odds. More likely, UFC 285 will stand out in history as the point where Shevchenko slowed just enough, her division caught up, and Grasso performed masterfully — the point where three factors combined to end the Shevchenko Era for good.
For complete UFC 285: “Jones vs. Gane” results and play-by-play, click HERE.