LAS VEGAS – In recent years, Mexico has been making its presence known in MMA, especially in 2023. However, despite Mexican MMA reaching great heights, perhaps nothing matches, at least in the grand scheme of things, what the MMA world is about to witness with Noche UFC.
This Saturday, the UFC hosts an event at the T-Mobile Arena to celebrate Mexican Independence Day. It’s the first of its kind in 30 years of the company’s history.
Guadalajara’s Alexa Grasso, the first Mexico-born female to win a UFC title, defends her flyweight belt against all-time great Valentina Shevchenko in the headlining act. This is an immediate rematch, as Grasso ended Shevchenko’s historic title reign this past March at UFC 285 in one of the biggest upsets of recent memory.
Along with Grasso, four other Mexico-born fighters compete on the card: Daniel Zelhuber, Loopy Godinez, Edgar Chairez and Fernando Padilla. Mexican-Americans Tracy Cortez and Raul Rosas Jr. will also fight at the event.
For Grasso, this rematch comes under near-perfect circumstances.
“This is a very important date, and it has been, especially for boxers. They’ve historically headlined this date,” Grasso told MMA Junkie in Spanish when asked about fighting on Mexican Independence Day. “So for the UFC to have given me the chance to defend my title at Noche UFC, September 16, main event, T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas – are you kidding me? This is huge. I’m so happy, very excited and very thankful with the UFC for this great opportunity.”
There’s been a total of 10 UFC championship fights involving Mexico-born fighters, but Noche UFC is different. This is more than just a fighter from a certain nation headlining a UFC event in a highly relevant fight. It’s the arrival of Mexican culture in MMA, something that has never really been present before, and has long been a goal of UFC CEO Dana White.
“Some of the baddest human beings to walk the face of the earth have come out of Mexico,” White told MMA Junkie and other reporters back in March. “Me being a huge boxing fan growing up, Mexico has always been an important market to me. It took longer than I expected to, but it did and didn’t. I’m impatient, and I expect things a lot quicker than they happen, but the U.K. and Mexico are both very important to me.”
Mexico has long been a powerhouse in boxing, and its culture is very much embedded in the sport. Cinco de Mayo and Mexican Independence Day on Sept. 16, apart from being Mexican holidays, are also synonymous with fighting.
Some of the greatest Mexican boxers such as Canelo Alvarez, Julio Cesar Chavez, Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera, and many others have built their careers and their biggest moments fighting around those dates. It’s tradition.
Yet, the Mexican influence has only been a thing in the world of boxing and never extended to MMA, until now.
From the matchmaking, name of the event, design of the promotion, and of course the date, the UFC has made sure to highlight Mexican culture in a way never seen before in elite MMA. They even had a mariachi band perform at Friday’s ceremonial weigh-ins.
For the first time, the MMA world is getting a taste of what boxing has called the norm for many years. Grasso hopes Noche UFC is the first of many.
“There’s a lot of Mexicans in the UFC, many,” Grasso said in Spanish. “This is very important for me, to get this focus, this platform, so we can show who we are, our technique, and every single one of us as individuals. I really hope (this becomes recurrent).
“In an ideal world, I would love to fight every September 16. It would be really cool to see this become a tradition and fight in Las Vegas or Mexico if possible. That would be crazy.”
Yet, Despite Noche UFC being an important event in the history of Mexican MMA, there are no guarantees the UFC will follow boxing and now look to host these types of events on an annual basis.
That’s why featherweight prospect Padilla feels he and his countrymen are fighting for more than themselves on Saturday.
“Us as Mexican fighters, the best thing we can do is go represent the country the best way possible,” Padilla told MMA Junkie in Spanish. “Our job this weekend is to go win and show that these events they’re making for Mexico need to stay because we’re going to give good fights.”
Padilla is not alone. Rosas, 18, the youngest fighter on the UFC roster, feels the same, but maybe with a higher degree of confidence that Noche UFC will be a hit.
“Yeah, I hope this is done yearly,” Rosas told MMA Junkie in Spanish. “Saturday you will see the Mexican talent, and they will not regret putting this card together. I hope that next one can be in Mexico City or anywhere in Mexico, really. This Saturday they will get a little taste of how we Mexicans fight and how we turn up. They will see that this type of show is something they’re going to be in need of.”
Regardless of the results on Saturday night, there’s no denying that Mexico is finally extending its influence beyond the boxing world and beginning to grace the sport of MMA.
The future is uncertain, but Noche UFC is a strong indication that Mexico has arrived, and it could become the staple in MMA just as it’s done in boxing. El tiempo lo dira.
For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for Noche UFC.