Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) women’s Flyweight rivals Alexa Grasso and Valentina Shevchenko will face off a second time TONIGHT (Sat., Sept. 16, 2023) at Noche UFC inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
A lot of fans want to write off Grasso’s first win as a fluke, but that requires intentional ignorance. Watching the first fight back, it’s clear from a couple minutes into the contest that Grasso had the striking tools to trouble the champion (watch highlights). The finish was a moment of well-coached opportunism, but that ending came following nearly 20-minutes of closely contested battle. On the other side of the equation, there’s the simple fact that Shevchenko already has roughly three decades of combat sports wearing on her. “Bullet” has been fighting since childhood in one form or another, and at 35 years of age, has time taken her down a step. Even if it has, is a slightly-diminished-but-highly-determined Shevchenko championship caliber?
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each woman:
Key Wins: Valentina Shevchenko (UFC 285), Viviane Araujo (UFC Vegas 62), Joanne Wood (UFC Columbus), Maycee Barber (UFC 258), Karolina Kowalkiewicz (UFC 238), Randa Markos (UFC Fight Night 114)
Key Losses: Tatiana Suarez (UFC Fight Night 129), Carla Esparza (UFC Fight Night 159), Felice Herrig (UFC Fight Night 104)
Keys to Victory: Grasso is a talented boxer, able to move fluidly from both stances and put together good combinations. Over the years, her wrestling and grappling have improved markedly, to the point that she’s now won two of her last three bouts via rear naked choke.
Last time out, Grasso employed her game plan expertly. Shifting Southpaw took away some of Shevchenko’s best kick options, and it allowed her to repeatedly work inside of Shevchenko’s check hook with her own cross. She pressed the former champion with body shots and combinations, putting some real heat on her until she made a mistake.
All of that is GREAT and should be replicated, but there was also room for improvement. Grasso needs to address both the jab and double leg takedown, the two weapons of Shevchenko that gave her the most trouble. In addition, she should be expecting some different looks from Shevchenko, who now knows a bit more of what to expect.
Key Wins: Joanna Jedrzejczyk (UFC 231), Jessica Andrade (UFC 261), Taila Santos (UFC 275), Holly Holm (UFC on FOX 20), Katlyn Chookagian (UFC 247), Liz Carmouche (UFC Fight Night 157), Julianna Pena (UFC on FOX 23)
Key Losses: Amanda Nunes (UFC 215, UFC 196), Alexa Grasso (UFC 285)
Keys to Victory: Shevchenko is pretty clearly the best counter striker in women’s MMA history. She’s also a major physical force in the clinch, and she’s scored a fair amount of finishes by dominating her opponents from top position.
Shevchenko definitely seemed thrown off by Grasso’s Southpaw look, eventually settling on the jab as her primary weapon. That’s a good read, but Shevchenko made life more difficult for herself by largely abandoning her power kicking game. She found some success with the switch kick to the body, both as a teep and round kick, and I’d like to see her use it more. Plus, the odds of Grasso being good at checking calf kicks from her non-dominant stance? They aren’t great! Almost nobody is good at that, and Shevchenko’s left kick is punishing.
Additionally, Shevchenko found massive success in timing her double leg takedowns. That should be a continued part of her approach in the rematch, as takedowns can really help stymie pressure.
If Shevchenko’s kicks are flowing and Grasso is nervous to advance because of the shot, that’s a good recipe for success for “Bullet.”
The belt is up for grabs!
Grasso already made history as the woman who finally dethroned Shevchenko, but can she keep her new crown? The Flyweight division is finally hot, after years and years of disappointing development. Shevchenko is a serious threat, but so are women like Manon Fiorot and Erin Blanchfield. Grasso has considerable challenges ahead of her, but turning away Shevchenko a second time is a proud declaration that she’s here to stay as champion.
As for Shevchenko, statistics and history are against her. UFC fighters above aged 35 or above do not typically win in title fights unless we’re talking about the heavier weight classes, particularly in rematches against younger opponents. It’s going to take an incredible performance for “Bullet” to regain her title, but if anyone is going to pull it off, why not the most technical fighter in women’s MMA?
At Noche UFC, Valentina Shevchenko and Alexa Grasso will throw down for the second time. Who leaves the cage strapped with gold?
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire Noche UFC fight card right here, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance (also on ESPN+) at 10 p.m. ET.
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