The women’s Flyweight division in mixed martial arts (MMA) has taken several twists and turns over the years since Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) introduced the fighters into the mix.
Arguably the best women’s division on a global scale before its UFC introduction, there appeared to be a big dropoff or growing period as The Ultimate Fighter 26 (TUF) acted as the launch vehicle. The end of the season crowned an inaugural champion in the form of Nicco Montano, who never wound up defending her title, leading to Valentina Shevchenko’s inevitably dominant reign.
Along the way, Shevchenko accumulated a record-setting seven consecutive title defenses before finally falling this past month (March 2023) to Mexico’s Alexa Grasso. Like most of the “Bullet’s” challengers, Grasso was a sizable underdog. Unlike the others, Grasso cashed in on a stellar fourth-round face-crank submission (watch highlights) to hear “and new.”
Having fought Shevchenko twice and once for the UFC title, the current Bellator Flyweight champion, Liz Carmouche, couldn’t be happier and more impressed by her now-fellow titleholder.
“I was honestly so impressed with Grasso’s performance,” Carmouche told MMA Mania. “I think that Valentina honestly kind of took her foot off the gas. I think that she didn’t expect that Grasso had the ability to defeat her. I was fortunate enough to get to know Grasso early in her MMA career when she was kind of tying the pieces together between jiu-jitsu and boxing. To see how far she’s come is so phenomenal. She’s such a sweetheart and such, to me, a great champion and great representation of what it can be.
“That’s a wonderful person to have the belt and to think that she studied it and saw the moment, and that’s how she got her, to me speaks to the volume and her ability of her coaches and her to implement that game plan and to see that opportunity,” she concluded.
Grasso’s finishing sequence came after a strong opening round that was subsequently followed by adjustment rounds for the former champion. Shevchenko’s wrestling proved briefly problematic for the boxing-based striker but wasn’t enough once things returned to the feet. A poorly-timed and shortly-distanced spinning back kick attempt was perfectly countered by Grasso, who found the back and ultimately worked her way to the victory.
An immediate rematch for a champion and all-time great of Shevchenko’s caliber looks to be a guarantee for Grasso’s first title fight. Carmouche, however, would like to see Grasso get some other opportunities to defend first, especially considering the adjustments she faced in her rematch experience after beating Shevchenko in their first encounter.
“If there’s one thing I know about her, it’s that she does not let the same mistakes happen ever again,” Carmouche said with a laugh about Shevchenko.
“I do think that Grasso is really skilled and I do understand that she studied it and she was able to capitalize on that but I think that’s a mistake Shevchenko won’t make again,” she continued. “So if that was the one chink that she saw in her armor, that won’t be there. She’s going to make sure that it’s gone the second time and while she let her get the best of her I don’t think she would do it a second time. I think Shevchenko will come out looking for blood and truly looking to hurt Grasso.”
Grasso won’t be alone when it comes to defending in a rematch for her next time out. Carmouche returns to action next weekend (Fri., April 21, 2023), headlining Bellator 294 in Honolulu, Hawaii. Standing in her way will be the woman she defeated in her Sept. 2020 promotional debut via third-round rear-naked choke submission, DeAnna Bennett.
Carmouche is quick to acknowledge the success that Bennett had in their first fight, but chalks it up to the fact that her opponent was well over the 126-pound Flyweight limit at 131 pounds. In a championship bout, it’s 125 pounds or bust, and the champion simply hasn’t been too impressed with the three-fight winning streak her challenger has since amassed.
“Even though she’s been winning, I haven’t seen any change in her game and any differences,” Carmouche said. “But if there’s one thing that I’ve learned in facing people is when they come out a second time, they want to change up all the things they did previously. So, you can’t bank on them being the same fighter.
“I’ll prepare and I’ve studied enough to know the nuances of what she does and to be able to see those quicker and to be able to be prepared for those,” she added. “But I’m also prepared that she could come out as a completely different fighter, and I really tried to focus on just myself and being the best version. It’s the same thing I did in my last matchup against [Juliana] Velasquez. Focus less on what she could do and focus on what I needed to do.”
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