Alexa Grasso did the unthinkable on Saturday at UFC 285, defeating Valentina Shevchenko to become the new flyweight champion.
With much anticipation in the build up to the bout, Grasso had strengths that were dismissed compared to Shevchenko’s striker. But the beauty of the fighting spirit was on full display, with Grasso executing a tough game plan and forcing Shevchenko to capitalize in the fourth round with an upset.
“I was really big on my discipline, really big on my conditioning and really big on my game plan,” Grasso says. “That’s the only way I could win this fight.”
The win marked just the second submission victory of Grasso’s career—and, remarkably, the first by Shevchenko. The moment of the winning streak was quick, coming straight after a spinning back kick missed by Shevchenko.
Grasso seized Shevchenko’s back control, then locked the back of her hand on Shevchenko’s neck. This was the moment Grasso had been waiting for. Her coaching staff spent countless sessions perfectly countering Shevchenko’s back kick, and, when that opportunity finally arose, Grasso was flawless in her technique.
“That was the result of hard work,” says Grasso. “We trained for that whole camp. When she was spinning, that was my chance to take her back. I had to be perfect, so we trained very, very, very much.
“When I get the choke, my coach always tells me to count. I’m supposed to count and squeeze. One, squeeze, two, squeeze, three, squeeze, four, squeeze. I got all the way to 12 against Valentina. Then she bowed.”
Grasso (16-3) was not expected to beat Shevchenko, but when they meet again in a playoff, she will be the one to enter as the champion. Shevchenko (23-4) has looked a step behind her traditional elite, and will be 35 when she gets her rematch, lending more credence to the notion that this is Grasso’s time. Despite 285 not being Shevchenko’s best performance, she still caused some problems throughout the fight with her level changes and victims.
A key moment occurred in the first round when Grasso hit Shevchenko with a left hand. From that point on, Shevchenko was wary of fighting Grasso, preferring to fight standing. Ultimately, that was a costly decision for Shevchenko.
“I noticed that,” says Grasso. “The moment I hit her, she changed her game plan. She’s fast and she’s a great athlete, and she was able to take me to the floor, so I fought to get away from everywhere.”
Shevchenko proved once again that she is a master of adjustment. But Grasso fought back with urgency, taking advantage of a rare opening to tap Shevchenko.
Grasso made history with the win, becoming the first Mexican woman to win UFC gold.
“It means the world to me that I can do this for Mexico,” says Grasso. “I’m really happy to do this for my coaches and team too.
“I have been training for a long time. I am so happy for everything I have achieved. I couldn’t be happier than I am now. I have worked every day of my life to achieve it.”
Francis Ngannou should be next in line for Jon Jones after Stipe Miocic
UFC president Dana White has been quick to dismiss any chance of Ngannou returning to the UFC anytime soon.
And that should make you think there’s a real chance it’s going to happen.
My ears perk up every time White claims Ngannou won’t be returning. For now, it makes no difference – Jon Jones is the new UFC heavyweight champion, beating Cyril Gane at 285, and he’s in the spotlight. If Gane were to win, it would be a feud for the UFC; how could you have an undisputed champion who lost to Ngannou? But that’s a non-factor, because Jones absolutely dominated Gane to become the new champ.
The future is clear for Jones. He will defend the belt against former two-time champion Miocic, a fighter who makes a convincing argument as the greatest heavyweight champion of all time. That’s the kind of fight Jones needs in his quest to cement himself as the greatest of all time. Right now, he’s the only opponent that makes sense. But what happens next if Jones beats Miocic?
If Jones and Miocic were to headline International Fight Week in July, that would put Jones on pace to fight again in December or January. There is no opponent in the world that makes more sense for Jones than Ngannou. Considering he is still recovering from injury, Ngannou would be fully healthy by the end of the year. It would provide a definitive answer to who is the best heavyweight in the world and would be the big fight the UFC needs.
If Jones doesn’t retire after the Micah fight, Ngannou will be his only remaining opponent after that.
Can Cyril Gane recover from a shocking loss at UFC 285?
Gane barely lasted two minutes in the cage with Jon Jones before he was knocked out.
Will he ever recover from the loss?
Gane (11–2) is still relatively new to the sport, but this seemed like the kind of loss that one never recovers from. It wasn’t even competitive.
The only time Gane hit Jones was a waist shot to open the fight. When the action resumed, Jones got out of the pit, took Gane to the ground, then applied his guillotine choke. As for Gane, it was one of the most disappointing performances on this type of stage in UFC history.
Jones’ last two fights have struggled to find their footing, and Gane is sure to follow a similar path. After a dozen straight wins, Dominick Reyes took Jones to the limit in February 2020 before losing by decision. He has since gone on to win, losing the next three in a row. Thiago Santos had won four in a row before fighting Jones in July ’19. After the loss to Jones, he has lost four of five.
If Gane can put himself back in contention for the heavyweight title, it will be great. Until then, there is a long road to travel after such a terrible performance.
Justin Barrasso can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.