MMA Junkie analyst Dan Tom breaks down the UFC’s top bouts. Today, we look at the main event for Noche UFC.
Noche UFC takes place Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The event streams on ESPN+.
Alexa Grasso (16-3 MMA, 8-3 UFC)
Height: 5’5″ Age: 30 Weight: 125 lbs. Reach: 66″
Last fight: Submission win over Valentina Shevchenko (March 4, 2023)
Camp: Lobo Gym (Mexico)
Stance/striking style: Orthodox/kickboxing
Risk management: Good
+ UFC flyweight champion
+ Regional MMA title
+ Multiple grappling accolades
+ Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt
+ 4 KO victories
+ 2 submission wins
+ 5 first-round finishes
+ Consistent pace and pressure
^ High-volume striker
+ Solid footwork
+ Puts together punches well
^ Punctuates with accurate kicks
+ Effective in the clinch
^ Good application of over/underhooks
+ Strikes well off the breaks
+ Improved transitional grappling
+/- 1-1 against UFC-level southpaws
Valentina Shevchenko (23-4 MMA, 12-3 UFC)
Height: 5’5″ Age: 35 Weight: 125 lbs. Reach: 67″
Last fight: Submission loss to Alexa Grasso (March 4, 2023)
Camp: Team Shevchenko/Tiger Muay Thai (Las Vegas/Thailand)
Stance/striking style: Southpaw/muay Thai
Risk management: Good
+ Former UFC flyweight champion
+ 17x muay Thai and K-1 championships
+ 9x IMFA Champ (56-2 as a pro)
+ Tae kwon do black belt (2nd dan)
+ 6 KO victories
+ 7 submission wins
+ 6 first-round finishes
+ KO power
+ Excellent footwork
^ Seldom out of position
+ Accurate check hook and counter cross
+ Hard knees, elbows and kicks
+ Crafty clinch game
^ Good trips and tosses
+ Strong positional grappler
^ Prefers passing to crucifix
+/- 1-1 in MMA rematches
Point of interest: Striking the second time around
The main event for Noche UFC features a rematch for the women’s flyweight title between Alexa Grasso and Valentina Shevchenko.
Although everyone remembers that back-take sequence that ended their first meeting back in March, only a select few seem to remember how much success Grasso was having in the striking department prior to round four.
Despite traditionally fighting from orthodox and only switching stances when occasionally feeling in stride, Grasso decided to change things up on the then-champion by primarily operating out of the southpaw stance. As I always say in my analysis, no one hates fighting southpaws more than southpaws themselves.
The reason for this is that most southpaws tend to predicate their games around orthodox fighters given their natural abundance at fight gyms. So, when a southpaw gets paired up with a fellow lefty, they often find themselves awkwardly navigating and interpreting space – making striking lanes for left crosses and lead hands extra potent.
Even though Shevchenkos’s sister and longtime training partner, Antonina Shevchenko, is also a southpaw, the former flyweight champion showed that she, too, was not impervious to this stylistic trope.
With that in mind, I’ll be curious to see if Shevchenko comes in better prepared to deal with another potential southpaw look from Grasso. If that’s the case, expect Shevchenko to be much more active with her lead hand and leg kicks.
Grasso may have executed much better than many are giving her credit for, but she still looked a bit shaky when committing to the southpaw stance. If Grasso has continued to work on her striking from that side, then I suggest leaving some room to be surprised this Saturday in regard to any skill jumps.
That said, regardless of what stance Grasso operates from, I still suspect that leg kicks will be an adjustment to watch for from Shevchenko given the current champ’s more boxing-centric stance.
Point of interest: Potential grappling adjustments
Between the way their first fight ended and where Shevchenko typically looks to adjust, I suspect that the grappling entanglements will still be a crucial lynchpin in this contest.
I don’t suspect that Shevchenko will be spinning as liberally this time around, but that doesn’t mean she won’t take things to the floor herself.
Aside from not being shy about incorporating clinch throws and tosses during her muay Thai days, Shevchenko has also developed a taste for level-changing takedowns in MMA (at least toward the latter end of her championship run). Even when wrestling might not be the most advisable adjustment, Shevchenko seems to have it equipped as a go-to option whenever she’s looking to ‘get one back.’
In Shevchenko’s defense, she did have her best moments against Grasso on the floor, coming close to securing a crucifix finish in the second round (which was my official prediction, for what it’s worth).
Nevertheless, it was Grasso who displayed excellent grappling IQ and urgency to escape potential fight-ending positions and get back to her feet. Grasso also showed a sharp, opportunistic transition game to finish the fight, but I’ll be curious to see if Grasso has smartly trained other kick counters that she can score takedowns off of ahead of this rematch.
If Grasso is unable to hit those styles of takedowns, I’m not sure she’ll be able to easily get the jump on Shevchenko in that department. And if Grasso can’t take down the former champion, then that means she’ll likely get stuck in Shevchenko’s wheelhouse of the clinch.
Point of interest: Odds and opinions
Despite the result of their first fight, the oddsmakers and public are still siding with the former champion, listing Shevchenko -180 and Grasso +140 via FanDuel.
Considering the Ronda Rousey-style odds that usually get set for these women’s title fights, I’m happy to see everyone come back down to earth as this fight definitely feels closer to a pick’em this time around.
Although I initially came into this contest ready to make a semi-reluctant prediction for Shevchenko to win by decision, I find myself liking the other side.
Aside from the fact that Shevchenko traditionally fights ultra-conservatively in rematches (see her latest fights with Liz Carmouche and Amanda Nunes), I noticed a troubling stubborn streak from the former champ that’s only seemed to show itself more and more in recent years.
Whether we’re talking about Shevchenko’s propensity to try and emotionally get one back on an opponent or her dismissive attitude toward their skills, the 35-year-old shows some troubling signs when it comes to her accountability and ability to adjust, in general.
For this reason, I’m not exactly confident that she will be making the necessary adjustments for this Saturday’s rematch.
Should Shevchenko come in with her usual countering approach, then she’ll likely get stuck on her backfoot and once again allow Grasso too much initiative to work with. If that happens, Shevchenko will probably find herself going to her newly-favored takedown counters.
Even though Shevchenko can still theoretically win the fight on the floor if she can secure a crucifix position away from the fence, I suspect that Grasso’s defensive acumen and scrambling will have only improved given the grappling trends from her camp. So, if Shevchenko is unable to produce a finish, I’m not sure she’ll be able to get off enough grappling offense to outweigh the potential numbers that Grasso will be putting up on the feet.
Again, Grasso may have been shaky at points when fighting from southpaw, but akin to Sean Strickland’s title-winning performance opposite Israel Adesanya, Grasso knew exactly what distances and strikes she was looking for – and that was enough.
I’m not sure if either party will produce a finish, but I’ll side with Grasso to tax Shevchenko’s stubborn nature and conservative approach by edging out scorecards via striking volume and effective pressure.