Alexa Grasso aims to prove her shocking title triumph over all-time great Valentina Shevchenko was no fluke when she defends the flyweight championship in their much-anticipated rematch at Noche UFC in Las Vegas on Saturday night (Sunday morning SA time), writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
Grasso headlines a super stable of Mexican fighters who’ll showcase their skills and warrior spirits in the UFC’s maiden Mexican Independence Day event at the T-Mobile Arena, which includes prodigy Raul Rosas Jr, Daniel Zellhuber and Fernando Padilla.
Plus, the co-headliner promises to be a banger as welterweight hitmen Kevin Holland and Jack Della Maddalena engage in a shootout.
MAIN CARD (from 4 AM Sunday SA time):
Alexa Grasso (2.40) v Valentina Shevchenko (1.60) (Flyweight Championship)
Grasso (16-3) was a 6.75 underdog when she shocked the world by dethroning the dominant Shevchenko (23-4) at the very same venue they’re returning to for the rematch to become the first-ever female Mexican UFC champion in March.
Widely regarded as the second-best female mixed martial artist of all time after former two-division champion Amanda Nunes, Shevchenko had ruled the 125-pound division with an iron fist and seemed unstoppable.
Seven title defences over five years made her the longest-reigning women’s champion in UFC history, however, a fearless Grasso made history of her own as she seized the title with a nasty rear-naked choke in the fourth round.
The 30-year-old is confident she’ll back up what was one of the biggest upsets in MMA history as she goes from the hunter to the hunted while Shevchenko is hell-bent on reclaiming the belt and bouncing back from what was her first loss since 2017 and only the fourth defeat of her career.
Now on a five-fight win streak, Grasso remains the underdog but has shortened the odds significantly. So, can she do the seemingly impossible again? The short answer is yes, but it comes with a big but.
A crisp boxer with good footwork and four knockouts to her name, she caught Shevchenko by surprise with her grappling to claim just the second submission win of her career. Without the element of surprise, it’ll be an even tougher challenge this time around.
Dove-tailing off that, there won’t be any complacency on the part of the former champion, which contributed to her shock loss in the first meeting. “Bullet” is the better fighter, a sharpshooter on the feet and force on the ground (eight knockouts and seven submissions).
As a second-degree taekwondo black belt, she’s faster and more versatile than Grasso, who doesn’t throw a lot of elbows or knees, and will show her the requisite respect this time by focusing on distance control, one of her great strengths, to keep Grasso at range and make her pay when she shoots in to try to grapple.
Reenergised and out for revenge, the Kyrgyzstan ace will be at the top of her game and will recapture the title.
Kevin Holland (2.24) v Jack Della Maddalena (1.67) (Welterweight)
The co-main event has Fight of the Night written all over it. Violent entertainers in the welterweight top 15, the pair promise to go toe-to-toe and put on a show. Interestingly, the odds have flipped in the last two weeks with Holland (25-9) going from marginal favourite to moderate underdog.
Holland, ranked one place ahead of his Australian adversary at No 13, has the advantage when it comes to experience, having faced off and beaten some of the best at welterweight and middleweight.
Long and athletic with 14 knockouts and seven submissions, “Trailblazer” is a dangerous showman who loves talking to his opponent in the heat of battle. Looking for his third stoppage win in a row, he’s the more well-rounded fighter.
Della Maddalena (15-2) is a rising star. On a 15-fight win streak dating back to 2016 and a perfect 5-0 in the UFC, he’s a hard-hitting, aggressive striker with an 87% finish rate, including 11 knockouts.
While I rate the 26-year-old, he didn’t look great in his last fight, eking out a disputed split decision win over Bassil Hafez last month, whereas Holland is coming off arguably his most impressive performance that saw him submit Michael Chiesa in the first round in July.
With a massive eight-inch reach advantage and more weapons in his arsenal, I’m tipping Holland to halt the rise of the danger man from Down Under.
Raul Rosas Jr (1.13) v Terrence Mitchell (6.25) (Bantamweight)
The youngest-ever fighter signed by the UFC at just 17 last year, Rosas Jr is a prodigy unlike any other. Still, there are areas of his game he can improve and that showed when Christian Rodriguez handed him the first loss of his professional career in April.
The Mexican teen sensation entered that clash with seven wins, six of which came by stoppage and five by submission, and it’ll be interesting to see how he responds to the decision loss this weekend.
Mitchell (14-3) is a veteran and a crafty danger man with a 100% finish rate (eight knockouts and six submissions). That said, he was completely blown out of the water in his UFC debut by South African’s own prodigy Cameron Saaiman, who TKO’d him in short order, and “El Nino Problema” will do so by submission.
Daniel Zellhuber (1.35) v Christos Giagos (3.30) (Lightweight)
These lightweights’ overall records tell you where they are at this stage of their careers. Zellhuber is 13-1, in other words, a fighter with great promise, while Giagos is 20-10, in other words, a journeyman. There’s a big age gap as well, Zellhuber being the younger fighter by nine years.
“Golden Boy” is not only faster and more athletic but he’ll also have a six-and-a-half-inch reach advantage. All of those strengths will come into play as he looks to stay on the outside and avoid grappling exchanges.
Giagos will be spamming takedown attempts but will have to do so safely. It’s almost a given that he’ll have to eat some punches to get inside – the key will be to avoid being hit clean.
The most likely scenario is that Zellhuber, fired up by the occasion and Mexican supporters, will keep it a stand-up fight for the most part and chip away with more accuracy and higher output to outpoint “The Spartan”.
Fernando Padilla (1.40) v Kyle Nelson (3.05) (Featherweight)
Looking to start the main card on a winning note for Mexican fighters, Padilla (15-4) showed he has solid striking and heavy hands for a featherweight when he knocked out Julian Erosa in the first round of his UFC debut in April. Tall and rangy, it was his fifth career KO, while he boasts eight submission wins as well.
Nelson (14-5-1) is a five-year UFC veteran who’s had limited success inside the Octagon. His decision win over Blake Bilder in July was his first since 2019 and just the second in seven UFC fights.
“The Monster” is decent rather than dangerous and has failed to live up to his moniker in the UFC. He’s lacked urgency and the requisite edge to make noise in the division.
With his quickness, aggression and five-inch reach advantage, “El Valiente” should be victorious and he’ll most likely get it done by knockout.